10 Things in Politics: Trump's defense is a mess — The most powerful woman in the Senate

Good morning! Welcome to 10 Things in Politics. I’m Brent Griffiths. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox each day.

Send your tips, thoughts, and evidence you’re not a cat to [email protected] or tweet me @BrentGriffiths.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • One of Trump’s attorneys was roasted for his poor arguments 
  • Meet the most powerful woman you’ve never heard of
  • The White House is offering a meek metric on school reopenings

1. TRIAL COMES UNDER FIRE: Former President Trump’s impeachment defense is a mess. One of his lawyers, Bruce Castor, delivered a rambling response that complimented House Democrats’ case. Castor also offered confusing asides, such as saying English common law, which very much influenced the founding fathers, doesn’t matter because America won the revolution. Another attorney, David Schoen, warned that convicting the former president of inciting an insurrection could unleash a second Civil War.

  • Gosh almighty, Bruce: Castor’s reviews were extremely rough. Trump, per CNN, was on the verge of screaming. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she was “perplexed.” And Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana summed it up as “disorganized.”
  • One mind did change: Cassidy, citing Trump’s teams’ incoherence, joined five other GOP senators in rejecting the argument that it is unconstitutional to impeach a former president. Cassidy was the only senator to change his mind from the previous time the chamber considered this question.

But here’s the thing, enough of the jury says it doesn’t matter. Republican senators have almost universally made clear that the trial will end in a second acquittal. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina told Axios that “not a single thing will change.”

WATCH: Democrats’ graphic video of the Capitol riot

Democrats will use their case to hammer out a visceral replay of the insurrection: On Wednesday, this included a nearly 14-minute video juxtaposing scenes of the riot with Trump’s speech to a crowd just outside the White House on January 6. Rep Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Democrats’ lead impeachment manager, added his own recollection:

  • “I told her how sorry I was and I promised her that it would not be like this again the next time she came back to the Capitol with me. You know what she said? She said, ‘Dad, I don’t want to come back to the Capitol,” Raskin said of what his youngest daughter told him. The lawmaker wanted some of the family to join him at the Capitol as they dealt with his son’s death.

2. The most powerful woman you’ve never heard of: Elizabeth MacDonough is the first woman to serve as Senate parliamentarian. In that role, she’s advising Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont as he presides over the impeachment trial; she coached Vice President Pence on how to explain he couldn’t overturn the election; and she will decide the fate of Biden’s $15 minimum wage increase. My colleague Kimberly Leonard writes in her exclusive report on how MacDonough decisions, will in the words of one Democrat, “literally impact the Biden presidency.”

The backstory: I asked Kimberly what she surprised her most about MacDonough’s nonpartisan role during hyper-partisan times. She writes: “MacDonough is very popular with senators. They were literally beaming when they talked about working with her. You don’t see that often.”

  • Bonus: Some have been making noise that Democrats might overrule MacDonough if she nixes popular provisions during budget reconciliation. Kimberly isn’t buying it. “I think fear drives them to stick to the rules … There are definitely cases when many of them are relieved the parliamentarian rules against something their party wants. They get to blame the rules of the Senate rather than admit they never wanted to take a tough vote in the first place.”

3. Biden supports keeping stimulus check availability the same: The president endorsed House Democrats’ decision to stiff-arm those, including some in the party, who want a more targeted round of checks.

4. The top things for your calendar, all times Eastern:

  • 12:00 p.m.: Trump’s impeachment trial resumes 
  • 12:30 p.m.: Jen Psaki delivers the White House’s daily news briefing.
  • 2:00 p.m.: Fed Chair Jay Powell delivers a virtual speech before the Economic Club of New York.
  • 2:50 p.m.: Biden, Vice President Harris, and Defense secretary Lloyd Austin speak to personnel at the Pentagon.

5. A Republican senator says his son bought into the GameStop hype without his knowledge: Sen. Patrick Toomey’s college-aged son purchased up to $15,000 in shares on January 27 then sold them the next day. It’s unclear if his son made a profit, but on the same day, Toomey of Pennsylvania warned of a “bubble” in the stock. My colleagues Jake Lahut and Dave Levinthal have the exclusive details on what ethics experts are saying about what happened.

6. The White House offered a modest measurement for school reopenings: Press secretary Jen Psaki says the administration considers a school to be reopened if there’s “some teaching in classrooms, so at least one day a week.” Biden promised to make getting kids back in classrooms a priority of his first 100 days in office. More here from US News & World Report.

7. Some neighbors want to boot Trump from his “Winter White House”: Palm Beach officials say they are inundated with complaints that Trump is violating a 1993 agreement that allowed him to switch Mar-a-Lago from a private residence into a revenue-generating club. A decision on whether Trump can “continue wandering the property like the mayor of the town of Mar-a-Lago” is due in April.

8. California has the most COVID-19 deaths: The state, per The New York Times, has averaged 433 daily deaths over the past week, leading it to surpass New York for total deaths on Tuesday. “But when adjusted for its large population, California has a lower death rate than 31 states and Washington D.C.”

9. The Michigan woman who testified on behalf of Trump’s unfounded fraud claims is running for office: “Mellissa Carone, who went viral following her eccentric performance at the Michigan House Oversight Committee in December, is running for a seat in the Michigan State House,” per my colleague Erin Snodgrass.

10. Putting the MC in diplomacy: U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Dan Kritenbrink released a lunar new year rap dropping that he’s “[F]rom Nebraska. I’m not a big city boy. Then three years ago, I moved to Hanoi.” Need I say more?

One last thing.

Today’s trivia question: Trump is regrouping in Florida. Years ago, President Hoover spent the years after his defeat stewing in a different sunny locale. Where is it? Email your response and a suggested question to me at [email protected]

  • Yesterday’s answer: Sens. Richard Shelby of Alabama and Susan Collins of Maine are the only two remaining Republican senators who voted “not guilty” on President Clinton’s first count of impeachment. Collins is the only one of the pair to find the president no guilty on both counts.

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