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Op-Ed: Trump will remain President-elect Biden’s greatest obstacle even after he takes office

President Trump’s actions following his electoral defeat, which won’t alter the outcome that he leaves office on Jan. 20 next year, underscore his intention to emerge as the Republican Party’s most significant force….



U.S. President Donald Trump turns away in the rain after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider as he attends a Veterans Day observance in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, November 11, 2020.

Carlos Barria | Reuters

President Donald Trump‘s continued refusal to concede 2020 elections poses a host of national security dangers. However, the most hazardous of them all won’t be found on the conventional list of threats that occupy Washington’s legion of foreign policy experts.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t potential for increased peril across the usual list of concerns: China, Russia, Iran, North Korea or terrorism. It’s just none of them – as significant as they are – pose as existential a danger to U.S. interests at home and abroad as the growing prospect of continued domestic political polarization and growing cultural divides.

Those, in turn, prompt adversaries to seek advantage by fueling these divisions and finding advantage in them. It leaves even the most hopeful of allies, encouraged by President-elect Joe Biden‘s commitment to restoring a more traditional U.S. approach to international common cause, hedging their bets.

President Trump’s actions following his electoral defeat, which won’t alter the outcome that he leaves office on Jan. 20 next year, underscore his intention to emerge as the Republican Party’s most significant force and thus a continued international rallying point for populist and nationalist politicians across the world.

The failure thus far of a host of such leaders globally to recognize President-elect Biden’s victory underscores this reality. They have included Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, and Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša has congratulated Trump on his victory.

The closer Trump’s day of departure comes, the more he talks to friends about preparing the ground for a 2024 run to retake the office he is so reluctantly leaving. He promises to be as untraditional a former president, remaining in the spotlight through whatever means prove to be most effective, as he has been in office.

President-elect Biden wishes to counter President Trump’s continued influence and fulfill his goal of being the unifying leader for all Americans and for global democracies. If he can do that, his team believes he could be one of those transformative presidents that comes along now and again at historic moments. What could be more so than our time of health crisis, economic threats, authoritarian resurgence around China’s rise and democratic weakness?

President-elect Joe Biden discusses protecting the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and his health care plans during a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware, November 10, 2020.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

To achieve that outcome, his team first must slay the Trump Dragon, which remains their most significant obstacle. To do so, they’ll need to study the four central motivations for President Trump’s actions that have followed the Nov. 3 elections.

These include:

  • Trump maintaining his leadership of the Republican Party. He is determined to remain the kingmaker for primaries and state races, while at the same time being able to kill candidacies that have been disloyal to him. It would be shortsighted not to take seriously Trump’s musings about running again for president at age 78 in 2024. Even if he doesn’t run, just the suggestion he might would keep him at the center of national and international attention.
  • Trump emerging from his electoral defeat with enough standing and authority to refinance his business and get new loans. By all accounts, he is under significant financial pressure, including a debt load of anywhere from $400 million to $1 billion. To maintain his brand, he’ll need to finance it, including the possibility, reported by Axios, that he’s planning to launch a digital media channel to compete with Fox.
  • Achieving immunity from federal prosecution. President Trump believes law may allow him to even pardon himself, a concept that almost certainly would be tested, up to and including the Supreme Court. Trump also has other options: he could resign before Jan. 20 and have Vice President Mike Pence pardon him. President-elect Biden on the campaign trail has said he wouldn’t pardon Trump.
  • Finally, Trump would want to protect his family members and ensure they could continue to pursue their business and political interests.  
  • The dilemma for the Biden team is that if President Trump achieves these four goals, he is far more likely to retreat quietly from office. However, his success in doing so also would ensure that he would remain as an immovable obstacle.

    Republican leaders, particularly those in the Senate, who have failed to criticize President Trump or call for him to concede the election, privately cite several motivations. 

    First, they say they don’t want to corner Trump, which they believe would make him more difficult, and they are trying to provide him room to make his own decision to step away. Second, they recognize he won more than 72 million national votes, the most of any Republican presidential candidate in history, and thus he will have continued influence on their political futures.

     Finally, the Republican party is focused on winning the two Senate runoffs in Georgia in January, where more than $100 million is likely to be spent on get-out-the-vote efforts. What’s at stake in Georgia is whether Republicans will hold the Senate. Even those Republicans who want Trump far from the scene don’t see mileage in a confrontation with him that could risk Georgia.

    The 2020 elections were a personal defeat for President Trump, but they weren’t the repudiation of Trumpism that his opponents, both Democrat and Republican, had hoped. His party did better in Senate and House races than expected.

    “If the 2024 Republican nominee isn’t Mr. Trump himself,” writes Brooking’s William A. Galston in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, “it will likely be someone who embraces the president’s orientation without his loud rhetoric and character flaws.”  

    Wrote Galston, “Mr. Trump’s critics saw him as a threat not only to racial progress and social inclusion but to the Constitution. And they came to understand that this threat represented the culmination of long-standing trends.”     

    Should President Trump and Trumpism remain as a central factor in American politics, even in opposition, that will have global consequences. Trump challenged party orthodoxy on alliances, on the use of American power, on democracy promotion, on cooperative trade policy with democratic partners and in the harsh tone he normalized in international statecraft.

    To understand what’s driving President Trump most at the moment, a colleague pointed me to a must-read interview By Gaby Wood with him from January 2007 in the Observer of London. She closed by asking, “If no one were looking at you, do you think you’d still exist?”

    Replied Trump, after a pause and with palms together in front of his face, “No. Because, honestly, I wouldn’t have any fun. There are people who are successful, but nobody knows who they are, and I say what’s the purpose? Everyone knows who I am.”   

    Whatever impact that might have in President-elect Biden’s ability to lead, that reality seems unlikely to go away.

    Frederick Kempe is a best-selling author, prize-winning journalist and president & CEO of the Atlantic Council, one of the United States’ most influential think tanks on global affairs. He worked at The Wall Street Journal for more than 25 years as a foreign correspondent, assistant managing editor and as the longest-serving editor of the paper’s European edition. His latest book – “Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth” – was a New York Times best-seller and has been published in more than a dozen languages. Follow him on Twitter @FredKempe and subscribe here to Inflection Points, his look each Saturday at the past week’s top stories and trends.

    For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.



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    JPMorgan Chase beats profit estimates on strong trading, $5.2 billion release of loan-loss reserves

    JPMorgan posted first-quarter profit of $4.50 a share, much higher than the $3.10 per share expected by analysts surveyed by Refinitiv.



    JPMorgan Chase on Wednesday reported profit and revenue that exceeded analysts’ expectations on robust trading results and a $5.2 billion benefit from releasing money it had previously set aside for loan losses that didn’t develop.

    The bank posted first-quarter profit of $14.3 billion, or $4.50 a share including a $1.28 per share benefit from the reserve release, higher than the $3.10 per share expected by analysts surveyed by Refinitiv. Excluding the impact of a $550 million charitable contribution, which lowered earnings by 9 cents, the bank earned an adjusted figure of $4.59, exceeding the $3.10 estimate.

    Companywide revenue of $33.12 billion exceeded the $30.52 billion estimate, driven by the firm’s trading operations, which produced about $1.8 billion more revenue than expected.

    JPMorgan’s release of $5.2 billion in reserves is the biggest sign yet that the U.S. banking industry is now expecting to have fewer loan losses than it did last year, when it set aside tens of billions for defaults anticipated from the coronavirus pandemic. A year ago, the firm had added $6.8 billion to credit reserves.

    “Overall, this was a great quarter for JPMorgan,” said Octavio Marenzi, CEO of consultancy Opimas. “It is now increasingly clear that the bank over-reserved, and that money is now flowing back into its earnings, concealing some of the weakness in consumer banking.”

    JPMorgan shares dipped less than 1%.

    Fixed income trading produced $5.8 billion in revenue, a 15% increase that exceeded analysts’ estimates by more than $800 million, on activity in securitized products and credit markets. Equities trading revenue surged 47% to $3.3 billion, a full $1 billion more than estimates, on “strong performance across products.”

    JPMorgan, with the world’s biggest Wall Street bank by total revenue, was expected to benefit from robust investment banking fees driven by record issuance of special purpose acquisition companies, which saw more activity in the first quarter than all of 2020, itself a record year.

    That came to pass: The firm said first-quarter investment banking revenue surged 222%, or a full $2 billion, to $2.9 billion, exceeding the estimate of $2.65 billion.

    Most of the quarter’s reserve release came from the bank’s retail division: The firm said $3.5 billion was tied to the bank’s credit card borrowers, and another $625 million from home loan borrowers.

    While that meant that the firm’s consumer and community banking division saw profit surge by $6.5 billion from a year earlier, to $6.73 billion, the bank said that card and mortgage revenue was impacted by lower balances as flush consumers pay down their debts.

    In the release, CEO Jamie Dimon called loan demand “challenged,” but during a call with reporters Wednesday, Dimon added that the dynamic would ultimately be good for loan demand because consumers were in good shape.

    Dimon struck an optimistic tone for the near-term economic future in the U.S., similar to comments he made this month in his annual shareholder letter.

    “With all of the stimulus spending, potential infrastructure spending, continued quantitative easing, strong consumer and business balance sheets and euphoria around the potential end of the pandemic, we believe that the economy has the potential to have extremely robust, multi-year growth,” Dimon said in the release.

    Analysts will also be curious about the pace of share repurchases the bank is expected to make. Last month, the Federal Reserve said banks that pass the industry’s 2021 stress test at mid-year will be allowed to resume higher levels of dividend payouts and buybacks starting June 30.

    Shares of JPMorgan rose 21% so far this year, compared to the 25% advance of the KBW Bank Index.

    After JPMorgan’s earnings statement, Goldman Sachs also released first-quarter results that crushed forecasts with record first-quarter net profits and sales due to strong performance in trading and investment banking.

    Here are the JPMorgan numbers:

    Earnings: $4.59 per share vs. $3.10 per share expected by analysts polled by Refinitiv.
    Revenue: $33.12 billion vs. $30.52 billion expected.

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    Correction: JPMorgan’s EPS figure comparable to estimates has been adjusted 9 cents higher to account for a one-time charitable contribution.

    JPMorgan shares dipped less than 1%.



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    Coinbase drops below debut price

    Coinbase held its direct listing on the Nasdaq on Wednesday, luring public market investors who’ve been waiting to get into the cryptocurrency exchange.



    Coinbase shares opened at $381 on the Nasdaq Wednesday morning, giving the cryptocurrency exchange an initial market cap of $99.6 billion on a fully-diluted basis. Shares quickly shot up as high as $429, giving it a market cap of $112 billion on a fully-diluted basis, before dropping back below the debut price.

    The price was still well above the reference price of $250 set on Tuesday night, but no shares were traded on public markets at that price.

    Skirting the traditional IPO process, Coinbase listed its stock directly, allowing employees and existing shareholders to sell shares immediately at a market-based priced.

    Excluding options and restricted stock units, Coinbase’s market cap was about $80 billion at the opening price. Including options and RSUs, it’s already one of the 85 most valuable U.S. companies.

    Founded in 2012 as a way to simplify the purchase of bitcoin, Coinbase has emerged as the most popular crypto exchange in the U.S. and soared in value alongside digital currencies bitcoin and ethereum. The service now has 56 million users, up from 43 million at the end of 2020 and 32 million the year before that. In its last private financing round in 2018, investors valued Coinbase at $8 billion.

    Coinbase is hitting the public market as a record amount of cash pours into cryptocurrencies and tech investors are thirsty for high-growth stories. Snowflake, Palantir, DoorDash, Airbnb and Roblox have all gone public in the past six months and have market capitalizations ranging from $45 billion to $106 billion.

    Relative to those companies and others in the IPO pipeline, Coinbase’s recent growth is unparalleled. The company said last week in announcing preliminary first-quarter results that revenue in the period surged ninefold from a year ago to $1.8 billion, and net income climbed from $32 million to between $730 million and $800 million. The number of monthly transacting users (MTUs) climbed from 2.8 million three months earlier to 6.1 million.

    For the full year of 2020, revenue more than doubled to $1.28 billion, and the company swung from a loss in 2019 to a profit of $322.3 million.

    Most transactions on Coinbase involve the purchase of bitcoin or ethereum, which have been on a historic tear, climbing over 800% and 1,300%, respectively, in the past year. The company has said that its short-term performance will largely be determined by crypto prices.

    Bryan Armstrong, Coinbase’s co-founder and CEO, owns 39.6 million shares. In August, Armstrong was granted a multibillion-dollar performance award tied to the company’s stock price, potentially letting him purchase up to 9.29 million options at $23.46 over 10 years.

    WATCH: Coinbase public debut is historic moment for cryptocurrencies

    Founded in 2012 as a way to simplify the purchase of bitcoin, Coinbase has emerged as the most popular crypto exchange in the U.S. and soared in value alongside digital currencies bitcoin and ethereum. The service now has 56 million users, up from 43 million at the end of 2020 and 32 million the year before that. In its last private financing round in 2018, investors valued Coinbase at $8 billion.



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    States rush to replace J&J vaccine appointments after FDA recommends pause

    The FDA and CDC recommended a pause in the use of J&J’s vaccine after six women developed a rare blood clotting disorder.



    More than two dozen states took steps Tuesday to halt inoculations with Johnson & Johnson‘s coronavirus vaccine, shortly after the Food and Drug Administration recommended to pause its use after reports some women developed a rare blood clotting disorder.

    The states, like the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stressed that they were acting out of an abundance of caution, as more than 6.8 million doses of J&J’s vaccine have been injected and only six of the blood clotting cases have so far been reported.

    J&J said in a statement that “no clear causal relationship” has been identified between the rare type of blood clots and the vaccine, adding it is working closely with regulators to assess the data.

    New York Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said the state will “immediately” stop administering the single-dose J&J inoculation, and will use Pfizer‘s two-shot vaccine in its place for already scheduled appointments.

    At least 25 other states, along with Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, also announced they are taking J&J’s vaccine doses out of their distribution plans.

    Those precautions may not be in effect for long, however: Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said Tuesday that she expected the pause to last only for a matter of days.

    Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, noted Tuesday that people who got the J&J vaccine more than a month ago are at very low risk for developing the blood clots. All six reported cases occurred in women ages 18 to 48, whose symptoms developed within two weeks after they received the shot.

    New Jersey’s Department of Health said that all vaccination sites in the state “have been told to cancel or put on hold appointments for the J&J vaccine until further notice.” The agency said it will work with those sites to replace J&J appointments with an alternative two-dose vaccine.

    Virginia “will cease all Johnson & Johnson vaccines” while the FDA investigates the “extremely rare possible side effect,” according to a statement from the state’s vaccination coordinator, Dr. Danny Avula.

    Connecticut’s Department of Public Health recommended all Covid vaccine providers stop using J&J’s vaccine “for the time being” while the FDA and the CDC complete their review.

    Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and top health officials in his state issued a similar advisory.

    Massachusetts’ Department of Public Health notified all vaccine providers in the state to stop administering the J&J vaccine, “effective immediately.”

    The other states are Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and West Virginia.



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