Are you breathing easier, dear readers? For those of us who have been suffering from the cedar pollen in Austin it may only be rhetorical, but it sure did feel good to watch President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris take their sacred oaths of office yesterday and, at long last, end the error of the Trump administration.
Change, said to be a slow train coming, finally pulled into the station yesterday in historic fashion. Not only did we swear in the first woman to one of the two highest executive offices in the land, but Kamala Harris will also be the first Black woman and Asian American to occupy those hallowed halls. One of her first orders of business as president of the Senate was to swear in her replacement, Alex Padilla, as the first Latino Senator from California, while at the same time swearing in Rev. Raphael Warnock as the first Black man elected to the Senate from Georgia and his running buddy Jon Ossoff as the first millennial Senator, and the first Jewish Senator from Georgia.
Watching Joe Biden take the oath was a powerful and moving experience for a wide range of reasons, not least of which being the memory of the deadly insurrection that took place just two weeks prior exactly where he stood. His twenty-one-minute speech conveyed the urgency of our moment, with pledges to combat coronavirus and white supremacy serving as stark reminders that the road ahead will be complicated, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
It was deeply satisfying, after four years of tumult and chaos in our nation’s highest office, to watch someone begin to steer our ship with a steady hand. So, too, was it deeply heartbreaking and touching to see a photo of a lone man in uniform, kneeling at the grave of Beau Biden in solemnity as his father took that oath.
Beau Biden was 46 years old when he passed away. His father is now the 46th President of the United States. For those of us who have lost a loved one, it is a poetic demonstration of the way the people we lose can sometimes come back to us in unexpected ways, that the tragedies of our lives can also give way to great triumph. In many ways that is the story of Joe Biden, a good man who has been forced to endure more than his share of tragedy in a remarkable life that began in the working-class enclaves of Scranton and reaches its peak at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
You’ll have to forgive me for allowing a few small moments of petty thought to enter my mind on such a glorious day for our democracy, but I just couldn’t help it. You see, for years Texas voters like myself have waited for Ken Paxton to finally face his comeuppance and stand trial for the crimes for which he already stands indicted, and those that the feds are still attempting to unravel.
In the final days of Trump’s administration, no one ran farther or faster to carry Trump’s water and spread his lies about election fraud. From being a persistent media presence to filing a vexatious lawsuit that sought to interfere in the results of elections conducted in other states, Paxton seemed to take his job as co-chair of Lawyers for Trump mighty seriously, and speculation was rampant across Texas that Paxton was gearing up to receive one of the pardons Trump was prepared to dole out, and that he hoped to ride that wave right into the 2022 governor’s race, should Greg Abbott not seek re-election.
Paxton couldn’t help himself. He left no stone unturned, and even went far enough to fly to Washington D.C. during a raging pandemic to appear, maskless, beside his wife and Texas State Senator Angela Paxton at Trump’s now-infamous “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6th.
You have to wonder if Paxton knew how precarious his position had grown as he spoke on the stage and listened to Trump incite the wild, violent and deadly insurrection that soon followed, or that his appearance on that stage may have been what ended up costing him the pardon he was so thirsty for.
Reporting over the weekend revealed that Trump’s White House counsel strongly urged him against pardoning anyone who was involved in the events of January 6th to shield himself from liability. Trump, usually one to dispense any advice he doesn’t like in favor of his own whim, leaned into his own instinct for self-preservation and acquiesced.
And so Paxton watched Tuesday night as Trump’s team rolled out a list of 140 plus pardons and commutations, bestowing his pardon powers on everyone from Steve Bannon to major fundraisers for his first presidential bid to disgraced doctors from Florida. Even Democrats were blessed with Trump’s benevolence: one of the most surprising names to make the list was the former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kirkpatrick, himself convicted of abuses of office.
But, alas, Ken Paxton did not make the list. Surely, he thought, this must be a mistake. Trump would use his pardon powers in the very final moments of his presidency, freeing him from a federal investigation and potential consequences.
Paxton was at least partially right. Trump did issue one 11th hour pardon before Biden was sworn in, but Trump chose not to reward his most loyal political foot soldier. Instead, he pardoned the ex-husband of TV’s Judge Jeanine Pirro, one of Trump’s favorite Fox News hosts.
And so, with his final act, Trump at least stayed consistent, and the truth remained stranger than fiction.
Elsewhere in inauguration action, you may have noticed one of the Senate’s chief seditionists, our own Ted Cruz, in attendance at the festivities. In a galling move, just two weeks after he helped incite a violent insurrection that killed several people, Cruz attended the proceedings in a mask emblazoned with the “Come and Take It,” insignia.
Really. I couldn’t make that up if we tried.
Cruz seems hell-bent on doing everything he can to further ingratiate himself to the Trump base in the run up to the 2024 presidential primaries, calling into clearer focus the need for there to be consequences for Cruz and the seven other Senate insurrectionists, as well as the members of the House who spewed Trump’s lies.
I am ready for a moment of great national healing, dear readers. I just don’t see how we’ll find one if the message we send to our children is that elected officials can get away with anything they want, including nearly overthrowing our democratically elected government.
Elsewhere in Texas, change is brewing at the Texas Democratic Party. Per reporting from the Texas Tribune, executive director Manny Garcia and his deputy Cliff Walker will be stepping away from the party at the end of the month.
We’ll have more reporting on this news and their transition in the hours and days ahead, but I would like to take a point of personal privilege to thank my two friends for their years of service. I’ve been blessed to work with Manny and Cliff on and off for the last seven years and even more fortunate to call them friends.
Few people have taught me more about Texas, its people and its politics than Cliff and Manny, nor have many people done more for the candidates I worked for or supported over the last few years. They took over an understaffed and underfunded party and in a shorter span of time than anyone expected built a state party that propelled Texas into battleground state status.
We remain the biggest battleground state thanks in no small part to their work. When the pandemic finally ends, I look forward to raising a glass for both of them in person to toast how far we’ve come. Thanks, guys.
Joe brings over a decade of experience as a political operative and creative strategist to Texas Signal, where he serves as our Senior Advisor and does everything from writing a regular column, Musings, to mentoring our staff and freelancers. Joe was campaign manager for Lina Hidalgo's historic 2018 victory for Harris County Judge and is a passionate sneakerhead.