Biden’s first day, Trump’s last
Joe Biden will be sworn in as president of the United States today at around noon Eastern in Washington. Here’s the full schedule of events.
This inauguration won’t be like the others, with a sparse crowd attending the swearing-in ceremony because of the pandemic. President Trump won’t be there either, as he and many of his supporters continue to tout false claims about the election. There is a heavy security presence to avoid any repeat of a pro-Trump mob’s deadly violence at the Capitol two weeks ago.
“American democracy is under siege,” writes David Leonhardt in our sister newsletter The Morning, likening today’s spartan proceedings to wartime inaugurations in 1861, 1865 and 1945.
On Mr. Trump’s last full day in office, he issued 143 pardons and commutations, “a final lashing out by Mr. Trump at a criminal justice system that he had come to view as unfairly hounding him and his allies,” The Times writes. Among the notable business figures granted clemency — here is the full list — are Elliott Broidy, a financier and top Trump fund-raiser who pleaded guilty to violating foreign lobbying laws in activities that involved the fugitive Malaysian financier Jho Low; Ken Kurson, the former New York Observer editor and an ally of Jared Kushner who was charged with cyberstalking; the former Google executive Anthony Levandowski, who pleaded guilty to stealing corporate secrets; William Walters, the sports bettor convicted of insider trading in a case that entangled Carl Icahn and Phil Mickelson; Sholam Weiss, who was sentenced to more than 800 years in prison for insurance fraud; and Bob Zangrillo, a financier who was charged in the Varsity Blues college-admissions scandal. (Many of the pardons appear linked to lobbying from influential figures: Mr. Levandowski’s petition, for instance, was supported by Peter Thiel, the Oculus VR co-founder Palmer Luckey and the former Hollywood executive Michael Ovitz.)
After leaving office, Mr. Trump faces a financial minefield, with significant debts coming due on commercial properties that he personally guaranteed. And the quest to make his tax returns public is likely to continue.
On Mr. Biden’s first day, he plans to propose legislation to reverse many of Mr. Trump’s immigration policies, including giving undocumented immigrants a chance to become citizens. Mr. Biden also plans to issue a series of executive orders, including extending a moratorium on foreclosures on federally guaranteed mortgages and revoking an order that limited diversity training for federal agencies and contractors. He might disappoint progressives with an order to extend a pause on federal student loan payments through September instead of canceling big chunks of debt as some have hoped.
Mr. Biden’s White House will impose stricter coronavirus testing, social distancing and mask wearing. Many of his aides will begin the term working from home, Axios reports.
In photos and headlines: Follow Mr. Biden’s road to the presidency in this illustrated timeline and revisit the biggest front-page displays of Mr. Trump’s term.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Jack Ma reappears. The Alibaba co-founder spoke at an event honoring teachers in China’s village schools today, his first public appearance in three months. He has kept a low profile since Chinese regulators began cracking down on his business empire.
The Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. passes 400,000. The country reached the grim record yesterday after daily deaths exceeded 3,000 in recent weeks.
Trump’s departing antitrust chief calls for tighter restrictions on mergers. Makan Delrahim said that the Justice Department’s antitrust division had drafted legislation to make it harder for dominant companies to buy smaller rivals, similar to a measure from House Democrats.
Federal prosecutors end an insider-trading inquiry into Senator Richard Burr. The Justice Department won’t pursue criminal charges against the North Carolina Republican over trades following senators-only briefings. Mr. Burr maintained that he had acted appropriately, but stepped down as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Parler tries to return, with help from a Russian company. The social network popular with conservatives, which went offline after Amazon cut off computer services following the Capitol insurrection, said it had partnered with a Russian internet firm and hoped to return by the end of the month.
What Janet Yellen said
The Biden administration’s nominee for Treasury secretary answered many questions at her three-hour confirmation hearing yesterday. Here are her thoughts on some of the issues DealBook has been following:
“Cryptocurrencies are a particular concern,” Ms. Yellen said. “I think many are used — at least in a transactions sense — mainly for illicit financing. And I think we really need to examine ways in which we can curtail their use.”
Treasury “needs to stay laser focused” on China, she said, citing “many tools” at the department’s disposal. That includes “sanctions and enforcement actions that can serve to dismantle financial and support networks of those who seek to do us harm.”
“Nothing is more important to the future of housing than what we do with Fannie and Freddie,” Ms. Yellen said. She did not commit to the Trump administration’s plan to privatize the lenders, but said, “I need to look carefully at what’s been put in place, and ultimately we need to find a solution that has bipartisan support.”
“We do not strive to be number one in the SPAC league tables. While we’re very active, we’re very thoughtful about our sponsors and the business that we take on.”
— David Solomon, the Goldman Sachs C.E.O., is wary of the blank-check boom
Doug McMillon’s advice for the Biden administration
The Business Roundtable held a briefing for reporters yesterday outlining its priorities for the Biden administration. Here’s what Walmart’s C.E.O., Doug McMillon, who chairs the powerful business lobby group, said the White House should do on two key issues:
Make clearer guidelines for vaccine distribution. “We have more capacity to put needles into arms than is currently being used,” Mr. McMillon said of Walmart, whose work with the health authorities includes using its outlets for vaccination sites. He said inconsistent state rules had slowed things down; he has been in touch with Biden officials to guarantee that everyone over 65 can be vaccinated nationwide.
Raise the minimum wage cautiously. “A thoughtful plan that raises the federal minimum wage while considering geographic differences and small business is something that we think should be done,” Mr. McMillon said, not quite endorsing Mr. Biden’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, but not rejecting it either. The country’s largest retailer raised starting wages for about 11 percent of its work force last year.
What came of Blackstone chief’s ties to Trump?
Steve Schwarzman, Blackstone’s co-founder and chief executive, was one of the business world’s top emissaries to President Trump, sticking with him despite the controversies and occasional slights. The Times’s Kate Kelly takes a look at what Mr. Schwarzman gained from the ties.
Staying close gave Mr. Schwarzman access to business opportunities: During the Trump administration, Blackstone secured a $20 billion commitment by Saudi Arabia for a new infrastructure fund, and Mr. Schwarzman helped negotiate a trade agreement with China that promised to give financial firms greater access to Chinese markets.
Mr. Schwarzman saw his advice as public service and a way to burnish his legacy, according to friends and colleagues. The Blackstone chief was “helping provide some adult supervision for a maniac,” Marc Levine, the former chairman of the Illinois State Investment Board, told Kate.
But the benefits may prove fleeting. The Saudis have so far invested just $7 billion in the fund, and the pandemic put trade talks with Beijing on hold. Perhaps most concerning to Blackstone is potential investor discontent over Mr. Schwarzman’s political activities. After comments he made about the election results on a private conference call were leaked, at least one pension fund that invests with Blackstone complained about the remarks, Kate reports.
Netflix pays its own way
Netflix’s shares are flying in premarket trading, following its release of bumper earnings after the close yesterday. Here’s how The Times’s Ed Lee breaks it down for DealBook:
For years, a lot of us wondered if Netflix was a real business or just a debt-ridden house of cards. Since 2011, it had borrowed $16 billion to fill its content slate and keep the company afloat. Despite spending more money than it took in, every time Netflix increased subscribers, investors rewarded it.
But Netflix hit a financial milestone that changes that narrative. It announced that it would finally become a self-funding business, and anticipates being “sustainably” cash flow positive this year.
That is a positive, but it also means that Netflix will now be judged by prosaic measures like free cash flow. That may help, as the growing ranks of competitors complicate subscriber counts. It’s so easy to cancel and restart streaming services that customers have become expert switchers.
Credit where it’s due: Netflix’s expensive gamble paid off, and the company will likely remain the largest streamer for years to come. It also set a daunting milestone: Netflix didn’t become a positive free cash flow business until it surpassed 200 million subscribers.
THE SPEED READ
MGM Entertainment abandoned its $11 billion takeover bid for the betting company Entain after its offer was rejected. (FT)
In electric-vehicle fund-raising news: Rivian raised $2.65 billion from investors like T. Rowe Price and Amazon’s Climate Fund, while G.M.’s Cruise division raised $2 billion from Microsoft, Honda and others. (NYT, Axios)
The chairman of Intel, Omar Ishrak, and Joshua Fink, the son of BlackRock’s Larry Fink, have launched a health technology-focused SPAC that plans to raise up to $750 million. Medtronic is an investor, a rare corporate player in the SPAC business. (Compute Health)
Politics and policy
Retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond dropped products by MyPillow after the company’s C.E.O. continues to push baseless election fraud theories. (NYT)
Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York unveiled a worst-case-scenario budget, including a temporary wealth tax and steep cuts to school funding and Medicaid, for if the state does not receive federal aid. (NYT)
“How Volkswagen’s $50 Billion Plan to Beat Tesla Short-Circuited” (WSJ)
The Korean electronics giant LG said was considering quitting the smartphone market. (The Verge)
Best of the rest
The London Metal Exchange plans to shutter its 144-year-old physical trading floor, known as the Ring, for good. (Bloomberg)
President Trump may be kicked out of Hollywood’s biggest union, SAG-AFTRA. (L.A. Times)
How a man managed to live in Chicago’s O’Hare airport for three months undetected. (NYT)
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