The Fix's Ask Aaron: The week in politics

May 18, 2018

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

...Where's my chat?

Hi all -- I work in the newsroom here at The Post. We're having some technical difficulties with the chat system today. Apologies for the trouble. For now, the chat will be a bit delayed till it's sorted out.

We're ready to go now. Apologies for the delay, and thanks to those who stuck with us.

Here we go...

But isn't it nice to know we miss you when you're not here?

It is. You guys are the best. Now to the politics...

I read in the Post piece by Matt Zapotosky that the Dept of Justice IG is expected to blast Comey for various steps he took and that the report will probably provide Trump with evidence that law enforcement was out to get him. It's looking more like that is the case, doesn't it?

This is merely the latest in a long series of strategies to undermine the probe. Everything is in service of that goal now. While this was slow-walked somewhat early on, it's now the uniting strategy.

Hi Aaron, The economy is healthy, and we're near full employment, as technically defined, at least. A generic Democrat (not named Hillary Clinton) or a generic Republican would probably be polling in the upper 50s if not higher, in this environment. And for all this, the high water mark for Trump's polling has him at/near his Nov. 2016 %. Should the conversation not focus more on why his numbers are still so low, given the state of the economy, and no Iraq/Katrina-level crisis (Puerto Rico notwithstanding)? A lot of the "Trump's numbers are improving" discussion seems to leave this out. Thanks.

I looked a while back at what kind of approval ratings presidents had when the unemployment rate was around where it is now. Most were 20 points better than Trump.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/08/31/trumps-approval-rating-is-20-points-lower-than-the-average-for-a-president-with-his-unemployment-rate/

Anyone there or has Amber diverted you by talking about the Royal Wedding. Serious Question - Why do you think the WH still not offering an apology for the 'He's dying' remark? It really does grate. Yes she has apparently made a private apology but if this was a private company they would be an official one. Any sympathies the WH does make when Sen McCain does pass will then be seen as mealy mouthed going through the motions. Along with some of the reports I've read basically wishing for a SCOTUS Justice to either retire or .... the WH really is an unsympathetic organisation at the moment.

When you have a bunch of GOP senators saying you should apologize, you get a sense for how bad this was. Those senators may not have exactly pressed the case hard, but they are much more loath to criticize the White House than they have been in the past. When that happens, it says something.

That's not necessarily something the Trump side should be touting, considering Nixon's fate. (Unless you're Roger Stone, who thinks Nixon got a raw deal, I suppose).

That was what I kept thinking when I read that quote.

And then today Trump compared the possibility of Trump testifying to Martha Stewart ... who made false statements and committed obstruction of justice.

I find it very difficult to believe that it is simply not possible to indict a sitting president for major crimes. What if that crime is treason? Considering the power the president has, whatever treasonous activities s/he would be up to could be even worse if they are allowed to stay in office and perhaps continue to commit treason. And it is quite possible that is what is indeed going on right now. How can it really be that a sitting president can't be indicted?

The operating guidance in DOJ has been that this would "violate the constitutional separation of powers" and that it's up to Congress to use its constitutionally mandated power to impeach and remove from office. Then, at that point, a former president can be indicted.

I'm now lawyer, but it's not that Trump has above the law, so much as that any prosecution shouldn't happen until they are no longer having to execute the duties of a president.

Other than the Tax Cut for the Wealthy, what did they actually get done? #MAGA

I don't think that's a particularly serious statement, given the lack of actual legislation. Presidents can do executive orders and such whenever they want. The thing that prevented past presidents from doing it is they wanted things to have the weight of the law behind them.

BUT. Tax cuts. Gorsuch. Longtime low in unemployment. Cutting regulations. Getting rid of the individual mandate.

"Success" is a relative term, but that's the case they've made for it.

Interested in your take as to why Republicans in the House and Fox News continue to insist the investigation is a witch hunt. Do you think they ACTUALLY believe that? How can that possibly be?

I'm sure some do. But given this language has largely been used only by the White House and a small number of House Republicans -- and the Senate Intel committee has reaffirmed the importance of this issue -- I don't think it's anything approaching a huge chunk of them.

So, why can't he be indicted? Does he get some type of pass? I guess it's true - Trump could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not be prosecuted. Any lawets want to weigh in on this?

Again, not immune -- just that the guidance has been it doesn't happen while he or she is in office.

Like the Caps power play? GO BOLTS!

Might be time to sit Lars Eller out for a few games. Haven't the Lightning scored like 4 goals off power plays from his penalties?

I don't know that I really have a question here, other than how can we get a Democratic Congress yesterday?

Not to be the bearer of bad news, but you have to wait for November. And it's not looking as likely as it once was!

But Martha's food is so much better!

Apparently you've never had the taco salad at Trump Tower.

I'm a cynic but I think his base is going to hear that and think no charges because there is no crime, not an obscure DOJ regulation.

I wouldn't be surprised, if Mueller thinks what happened would otherwise be indictable, for him to make that pretty clear in his reports. 

That said, this will be a talking point that they use -- no charges mean nothing illegal happened. Of course, that'll be difficult if OTHERS are charged with crimes related to collusion or obstruction.

Last night's Caps loss was part of a grand plan. It is impossible to blow a 3-1 series lead if you are tied 2-2 in the Series. Now let the Caps wrap this up in 6.

Pay the man, Shirley.

I'm in the reddest district of a very state. My 58 yr old, white, blue collar, high school diploma brother fits the classic Republican demographic but until last week wasn't even registered to vote. But now he is, and he vows to vote straight Democrat, mostly in anger at the party-line people who won't condemn the egregious rhetoric from DC. Is there a trend of older, formerly complacent people deciding to vote?

I'm not sure we've seen evidence of this beyond the anecdotal. 

Hi Aaron- in rereading the transcript, my read is the Trump was referring to all immigrants as "animals" and not just gang members. In relying on the words only ( and not the after the fact explanation) what's your read?

The question was clearly about MS-13, but Trump kind of jumbled his thoughts, and it wasn't entirely clear he was referring to gang members. That said, he's used that term to refer to MS-13 before.

I think this should be carefully reported -- including the context of the question Trump was responding to -- but that Trump also needs to be clearer with the way he talks about these things. I think he likes saying semi-unintelligible things that invite people to read the worst into them, and then throws his hands up and claims persecution when they do. It's part of his crusade against the media and political correctness.

Hi Aaron- if a sitting POTUS can not be indicted, can you explain how he can committe perjury?

Again, it would be up to Congress to decide. That's what happened with Clinton.

I suppose the Founding Fathers did not foresee a situation where the party of the sitting president that controls Congress would refuse to impeach their president despite a great deal of evidence of wrongdoing (besides Russia, emoluments, etc.). This whole situation is so wrong on so many levels. Do Republicans really not see their hypocrisy?

You're right that a policy of not indicting a sitting president is a considerably more fraught policy when we're so tribal and polarized that members won't actually judge the evidence on its merits. We have lots of people declaring this investigation to be bogus without seeing 90% of the evidence Mueller has. That's not exactly a recipe for a sober-minded potential impeachment process.

Aaron, if Trump is found to have committed serious crimes and is not indicted nor is he removed from office by Congress, then Door #3 might be arrest at the hands of Capitol Police shortly after noon on 1/20/21. Wouldn't that be the perfect ending of a reality show presidency?

Everyone's gotta have a fantasy, I suppose.

My 56 year old brother will cancel out the vote of the 58 year old blue collar guy....since he is switching from Democrat to Republican. How much of each is going on?

Trump has clearly reshuffled the political calculus for a lot of Americans, and you're right that it has gone both ways. Some rural districts swung 20 points in Trump's favor, relative to 2016. Other suburban districts (like the one in Georgia where they had the special election), swing hard against Trump.

Any distinctions about the difference between spying on a campaign and following an investigation which leads you to a campaign? Do we know which we are looking at?

It's an extremely important bit of nuance that Philip Bump tackled here:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2018/05/17/is-trumps-rhetoric-about-an-informant-in-his-campaign-warranted/?utm_term=.d91d7c0883d3

This is part of Trump's modus operandi, to seem ambiguous enough that he can get by with dog-whistling to his base.

I agree 100 percent. As a journalist, you can cover these things in nuanced ways, but that also risks him taking advantage of us. And he has repeatedly exploited this -- most notably with his many false statements that we have to decide whether to label as "lies."

At the same time, we have a duty not to ALWAYS assume the worst. It's a tough situation.

The Dems have an incredible talent to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Very true. They also have to win in red-leaning territory in order to take the House, and they simply haven't done that in recent years. 

Do you really think a new Dem president would pass on prosecuting Trump after he's out of office if the Mueller report reveals crimes he committed? The Dem base would never forgive that person.

I'm not so certain. Once he's out of office, that removes the thing Democrats truly hate most. Also, the new Dem president could simply say, "It's time to come together as Americans and put this ugly chapter behind us. A prosecution would just prolong that."

I saw Guiliani on CNN this morning and it was cringe worthy. I didn't feel like he was representing the President well. He came off as an angry guy who didn't know his facts and couldn't defend his positions under scrutiny (aka "You're not treating me fair.") I know WH people have a boss of one (Trump) but do others ever see/comment about how they look and appear to everyone else?

My understanding is that, just like with Scaramucci, John Kelly, Kellyanne, etc., others see what he is saying and don't like it. But Trump does and that's all that matters.

Why in your opinion is it true that Trump has scrambled our whole system of politics but all the old rules about where Dems can and can't win still apply?

It's not necessarily! But the Trump map actually translated to Republicans winning more districts and more states. So if anything, it might have gotten slightly more difficult for Democrats to get over the hump.

Very true. They also have to win in red-leaning territory in order to take the House, and they simply haven't done that in recent years. AL or PA anyone?

Special elections have turnout that isn't often replicated in general elections. Also, Roy Moore.

There is always an exception to a rule, but it's not like Democrats have shown they can win in these areas consistently in recent years.

Can Trump pardon himself, before his successor takes the oath of the Presidency?

Short answer: Legal scholars are skeptical, but we don't know for sure because it hasn't happened.

Was this someone with the FBI who was sent to join the Trump campaign, or someone already in the Trump campaign who then became a informant? Does it make a difference?

A huge one. Another nuance that is lost in much of the talking points here.

Guiliani is so bad that he makes Trump look coherent in comparison. So he's doing an excellent job.

If this was the strategy, why not just bring back the Mooch? Just have a non-lawyer represent you!

It doesn't take a Democrat to oppose corruption in the White House. Or at least it shouldn't.

Fair. My point is simply that if Trump is no longer president, that solves the problem lots of people have, and they are unlikely to care as much whether he is held legally accountable.

*Fun with hypotheticals.* It's more likely than not that Mueller will have filed his report, along with any charges, before the 2020 primary is in full swing. Let's stipulate that Trump (or any president) cannot be indicted while in office. Could this become a central issue for the 2020 Dem primary? "If Mueller cites Pres. Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator, will you (candidate X) pursue his prosecution upon taking office?" That is, Trump's fate could ultimately lie in the hands of his political opponent?

I expect it will become an issue regardless of how hard Mueller's reports judge Trump's actions. This is a great way for the Dem candidates to try and get to one another's left, and they've been practically climbing over one another to do that.

I don't think the party leaders want that debate necessarily, but they also don't want to talk about impeachment, single-payer and other things that the base is demanding (and will reward 2020 Dem candidates for).

the President doesn't interfere with individual prosecutions (other than by pardoning).

Perhaps! But I doubt that's entering into Mueller's calculus. 

Which did you hear.....Yanny or Laurel?

Laurel and anybody who heard otherwise is a traitor and a coward.

Dems shouldn't talk about prosecuting Trump, single payer, guaranteed jobs... sounds a lot like 2016 GOP shouldn't talk about building a wall or how immigrants are rapists...We saw how that worked out.

I've argued before about how Democrats can't be as extreme as Republicans. They need to win red territory to take the House. Republicans don't need to win blue territory. The median House district went for Trump by more than 3 points. And he won 30 out of 50 states.

Whatever happened to the Presidents Infrastructure Plan? Did I miss it or was it overcome by other events? I say this as I'm tired of Metro not having *stuff* together and I'm saying of paying these tolls.

I believe the White House said 2 weeks ago that it wasn't coming this year. It's an election year, after all! Can't expect people to do anything remotely ambitious.

He's gone from 38 to 42. Which is still terrible! and below where Obama was when he got crushed in 2010. Also, Obama was at 50 at this point in 2010. Watch where Trump's approval is in October before trumpeting GOP's comeback narrative.

4 points is not a huge shift. It does suggest that a growing number of people dismiss lots of things as insignificant noise and have warmed to his style. If he's in the mid-40s, I don't think Dems can take the House.

Don't underestimate the power using the words "witch hunt" has to keep Trump's base angry. That's the main reason he says it.

He knows how to stick to a message. And it's remarkable how much you hear his talking points being recited by people.

Not applicable to the failed Farm Bill? Thought nothing went to the floor of the House w/ out being able to pass with just Republican votes.

Hastert Rule isn't that it has to pass with just GOP votes; it's that the bill has to have a support of the majority of Republicans.

The same people who lambasted President Trump for his squishy language about the white suprematists in Charlottesville are now up in arms because he called MS-13 gang members animals. (And please don't bother trying to persuade me that he meant immigrants in general; the transcript of the question to which he was responding makes it crystal clear that he was talking about MS-13 members.) I can't even imagine what the response would have been if he had said that some MS-13 gang members were "fine people." So he does what he should and says that gang members who -- just in this area -- stabbed innocent victims over 100 times, tore out their heats, and decapitated them animals. That seems like an apt description to me. Yet, liberals are now defending the "humanity" of MS-13 gang members. This is a winning strategy? I think that all it proves is that no matter WHAT President Trump says, he will be attacked.

I am not sure defending MS-13 members as not being "animals" is an argument Democrats should embrace.

... do you have a collection? What's your favorite one? (Other memorabilia is acceptable, if you do not collect pins.)

I wish I did. Some in the office have a lot of this stuff, but I've never been a good collector.

Why didn't West Virginia Dems push their voters to register as Republicans and vote for Blankenship in the Republican primary? Manchin was a lock. Given that more Dems than Republicans turned out, the Dems could have delivered the winning margin to Blankenship and really increased Dem chances of taking the Senate. It would have taken only 20,000 Dems doing that to give Mitch McConnell a migraine, as Blankenship lost by 19,963 votes. And you know Blankenship is sufficiently shameless to gladly accept that help. And since when has the GOP ever cared about fairness?

That's asking people to do a lot -- re-register and then vote. Plus, what happens if Blankenship were to actually win the seat?

We won't see anything happen after this latest hellish killing spree, will we?

If it didn't happen after Sandy Hook and after Parkland and after Trump talked about taking on the NRA, I see almost no reason to believe it will happen now, in an election year.

Can a President be named an unindicted co-conspirator?

There is no guidance that says he or she can't, as far as I know. And I'm not sure there would be, given it's not legally binding.

It's just Marketing 101.

Yeah, it's not exactly novel. But it does work. And it sticks even when the talking point is rather implausible.

I'm really ready for an adult beverage

I think when it's raining outside, it changes to 3 p.m.

Wasn't Nixon that? And it forced him out.

He was named an unindicted co-conspirator. I am not sure sure that would be enough for Republicans to vote to impeach and remove him from office, though. If you and your base think the investigation is bogus, that label doesn't carry as much weight.

Is this just centrist fantasy nonsense or is their truth to this rumored plan by a 3rd block of Senators?

I hadn't heard that! I'm guessing its just fantasy.

Thanks everyone for hanging with us. This was a GREAT chat. As always, I learned a lot and got lots of great ideas.

Be well, and have a great weekend.

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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