The Fix's Ask Aaron: The week in politics

Feb 16, 2018

The Fix's senior reporter Aaron Blake chats with readers in his weekly politics chat series.

It's been a long week from a non-political perspective. But we also had lots to chew over with the White House and Congress. What's on your mind?

Other than embarrassing the President and humiliating the First Lady what is the point of these stories? And I lean towards being a Democrat.

In both cases -- and especially the Stormy Daniels case -- I think the bigger questions is whether the alleged cover-up may have constituted a crime. Affairs probably mean less politically than they did in the past, but the money trail is what really matters here. And as Philip Bump noted, there are plenty of legal questions. 

Since the recent shooting I’ve heard many pundits and even news anchors say that they are pessimistic Congress will do anything to address gun violence. The strong impression they seem to convey is that a vote for Democrats is a vote to stop this kind of violence and a vote for the GOP is a vote to continue the status quo. But no one (that I have seen) is coming out directly and strongly with that message. Why do you think that is?

I think there is a line between saying "Congress should address gun violence" and "Congress should enact gun control." The latter implies a specific fix that much of the country simply doesn't subscribe to. I don't think anyone would disagree that Congress could do something to help here. Whether its on guns or mental health or something else is the question.

Hi Aaron, Is either of these scenarios possible and/or plausible: Trump extends the deadline - bigly - for deporting dreamers, to get it out of the headlines? Trump reverses his reversal of Obama's original order? Is there any other way to protect them with immigration reform off the table in Congress?

He could extend it and I wouldn't rule it out, but the White House has also said they didn't think the executive action was legal. Turning around and doing their own would make that sound hypocritical. (Of course, Obama himself suggested he couldn't legally do something like DACA before he did, so there is precedent for reversals on this.)

May we now assume it's over for them, or is there any possibility of something both houses and the Big T will accept?

I wrote yesterday that, as we get closer to the ACTUAL deadline (which is still really months away, thanks to the court case), perhaps one side or the other may cave a little bit. March 5 in this case wasn't actually the deadline, and so both sides had less incentive to give. 

Shulkin? Kelly? Pruitt? Who's next? And other than confirming the inevitable history-book description of the administration as "scandal-plagued", would further firings/resignations have any practical ramifications? I would assume any further confirmation hearings would be much more strenuous, right? And does the senate have the time or stomach to deal with that?

I don't see how Shulkin survives this. The other stories have buried that IG report, but I don't see this going away.

Does he really need Trump's permission to reconsider running? Talk about kissing the brass ring.

He's REALLY turned the corner on this. It's been rather remarkable from the guy who once said the White House was an adult day-care center. I think this is even more remarkable than Lindsay Graham's 180 (which even Graham has kind of admitted is about political expediency).

Since people are sane until they are not, wouldn't it make sense to ban all firearms, given the unpredictability of the onset of mental illness?

I sense someone is making a rhetorical argument. 

Let's face it...given the actions taken or lack thereof, Trump will never show any empathy and its unclear whether he really cares, whether its gun violence or dreamers or even what ICE is doing in breaking up families. We should stop expecting him to care at all.

I tend to agree that this is a little bit overwrought. Empathy just isn't his thing, and it shows up over and over again. I also think he tends to resist giving in to those who want him to be more empathetic because of his "defiance disorder."

Leaving the domestic abuse aside for a moment, why is no one talking about 'carelessness with secure data', the alleged basis for "Lock Her Up!"? https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/13/us/politics/rob-porter-fbi-background-check.html

I suspect that is where this whole thing is headed, particularly with Kushner.

What do you make of the NY Post calling for gun control? Does it give Trump cover to propose legislation or is that too much to ask?

It will never happen. It's notable that the Post did that, but i don't expect this will fundamentally change the calculus for conservatives.

I'm sure Republicans can read the tea leaves. Is their position basically they don't care if they lose Congress in November because the damage is already done and it will take a generation to reverse it?

Republicans have been taught repeatedly during the Trump era to distrust their guts. They thought Trump was going to lose them Congress in a 2016 bloodbath, and he didn't. Now they are seeing some improving poll numbers post-tax cuts, and I think they are now pot-committed to staying on Team Trump.

Otherwise Cohen wouldn't have made his cockamamie personal funds claim, right? I mean, come on. Right?

I would wager it's more likely it was personal funds, if indeed someone else was involved. Why take it from the campaign when Trump is already self-funding extensively?

I understand that the Democrats first instinct is to attempt to govern and help people but at what point do Democrats say to Trump, you and the GOP caused this mess, you fix it? Why would the Democratic base hold them responsible for something they have very little control over?

That's the next step in this process: Waiting for the DACA deadline and hoping the GOP blinks.

If Trump actually had to apply for a security clearance, is there any question that he'd never get one?

Not a bad point. The suspicion is that the Russia stuff and complicated finances have delayed Kushner's. Both of those apply to Trump too.

Do these people really think they'd get away with misusing funds the way they do? Or are they so "inexperienced in public service" that they don't realize they're doing something wrong?

I have no idea what they are all thinking. Why risk it all over a few thousand dollars worth of expenses or travel. Especially when you are Steve Mnuchin or Tom Price.

The next generation will do it because they will try something new.

If you look at polls, younger conservatives are more pro-gun control than older ones. And this is still something that's being driven by the older GOP base. I suspect we may see a shift over the years, but perhaps a slower one than some people would like.

Reading your responses, it appears you think there's no chance any gun control legislation will pass. I hear that 80% of Americans support universal background checks and bans on bump stocks, at least. You think we shouldn't hope for that? I despair for this country.

Time and time again, we have been shown that Republicans in Congress just have no appetite for more gun legislation. The fact that Congress did nothing on bump stocks after Las Vegas is the most telling proof to date. That was something the NRA even supported, in theory. 

Isn't Shulkin a holdover from the Obama administration?

I think you may be thinking of Eric Shinseki.

Can you imagine the feeding frenzy if there'd been a whiff of scandal about Obama's personal life, let alone what we have with the TMZ resident of the White House. I guess character only matters when a Democrat is in office.

If the Daniels thing or the McDougal thing happened with ANY other president, it would have dominated the news instantly. I'm not sure it's so much about Republican vs. Democrat as that our tolerance for this kind of thing has been increased significantly. Trump has played a massive role in that, certainly. I would argue that Bill Clinton did too.

Shulkin is the only holdover from Obama; he was a deputy at VA.

Ah there you go. I was thinking someone who had also *served as secretary* in the previous administration, like Bob Gates did for Bush and Obama. "Holdover" tends to mean someone like Sally Yates who stayed on till someone new was picked. Trump nominated Shulkin.

The GOP passed a big tax bill, cutting taxes for many individuals UNTIL 2025 or something like that. When people go to file that year and owe so much more they will blame the current officeholders. Trump & Co will be long gone.

I expect they'll be renewed, and I believe the budget deal extended them some.

But you're right. This is a tried-and-true political trick to delay the pain until the next administration. And then its on future Congress's to extent them are be tagged with a "tax increase" that was written into this bill. It's not the political ideal.

Will the latest claims about the current President having affairs earlier in his life and paying off the women be more 'heard' given how similar the claims are? And will the gold dress announcement yesterday be potentially harmful if say, one of his current lawsuits by other women require a DNA test?

The similarity between the two accounts lends both of them credibility. The similarities in the payouts are what I think is probably most important though.

I would love to see the next generation, when they are in power, do something about gun control. But I'm a baby boomer, I was in college during the Vietnam War demonstrations, and I thought, "When the baby boomers are in power, things will be much better." I was wrong.

Views of particular generations don't always stay steady as they get older -- particularly on economic issues

It really is the most magical time of the year.

Maybe we need an Infrastructure Month to make sure it gets at least a few days in the headlines.

It appears to me that the Democrats have given away most of their bargaining power. What incentive does any Republican from a deep red state have to support the Dreamers or immigration reform now?

Democrats haven't played this whole thing great, but I also think they over-estimated how much leverage the shutdown debate gave them. They folded rather quickly. 

your reporting on the WH is always very cool and objective, but do you ever get angry? I'm thinking of the (near infinite) times when the WH say one thing and does another - e.g. the stated desire for "transparency" for the Nunes memo release but no release of DJT tax returns. that kind of stuff. at times it makes me so mad I can't even read it, and yet here you have to not only pay attention but then write about it.

I started my career writing about sports teams I had been rooting for my whole life. It was a good way to learn how to set your own passions and opinions aside. Journalists are meant to write about things as dispassionately as they can, and let people make their own decisions. While others may due their civic duty through activism, I like to think mind is through allowing people's activism to be informed.

We all thought at the time that Vietnam was stupid and our elders were clinging onto it because of a Cold War mania. We got out of Vietnam. Apartheid ended, too. Things will get better.

The counterpoint.

Basically the Democrats decided to regroup after the November election, no?

Perhaps. They can't count 100% on winning the majorities, though.

Polls show voters support DACA and background checks for gun purchases, but neither can be enacted. Do you agree that these are issues people support, but it doesn't determine voting choices? Opponents of both, however, will punish politicians who support them.

In both cases, the minority is a very vocal minority, and as long as they strike fear in the hearts of Republicans in primaries, they will have outsides influence.

Also in both cases, support for DACA and background checks is vast but not as vocal and not as active.

Thanks everyone for another great chat. I'll see you all next week!

In This Chat
Aaron Blake
Aaron Blake is a senior political reporter, writing for The Fix. A Minnesota native and graduate of the University of Minnesota, Aaron has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and The Hill newspaper. Aaron lives with his family and trusty dog, Mauer, in Northern Virginia.
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