The Fix's Ask Aaron: The week in politics

May 17, 2019

The Fix's Aaron Blake discusses the latest in politics and campaigns live with readers.

And Happy Friday. Lots of questions in already, so let's get started...

While Biden seems to be the most vocal candidate in criticizing Trump, his policy views don't go as far in combating what has gone on over the last 2 years - for example, I can't imagine him reversing every Trump executive order on day 1 like I'm guessing some of his opponents would do. How do you think primary voters will deal with that difference?

It's going to get more difficult for Biden as the race goes on. He's been very policy light. He's not going to be as far left as some of his opponents, and at some point that's going to matter. What we've seen so far has been largely platitudes and an emotional appeal.

There is much to question Mueller actions: He punted and didn't reach a conclusion. And now he seems to be slow walking an appearance in front of the House committees. He and the committees see to be having much negotiating. Are the Dems afraid to say a bad word about Mueller?

Here's a newsflash: Never invest too much hope in one person -- especially in politics and government. They are bound to disappoint you.

A lot of people projected on to Mueller what they would do if they were in his position, and then they were disappointed.

Today the head of Ways & Means Comm. was on CNN saying that 'contempt' seems useless and that likely he'll go straight to the courts instead. Do you think that's a better strategy? Why? (I actually agree with it)

Contempt doesn't really do anything unless the person is actually concerned about it. And Barr doesn't. That was mostly about catharsis.

This was always going to be decided in the courts, not through symbolic rebukes.

Could calling the hearings 'impeachment' really force more compliance? How, given the WH's 'no nothing' level of cooperation?

I haven't looked at this terribly closely. But if the White House's argument is that there is no "legitimate legislative purpose," it would seem the House launching a constitutionally protected process of impeachment might be an argument against that. That said, I'm guessing the Trump team would just say that impeaching someone doesn't necessarily bestow investigative powers. You can impeach them without investigating, after all.

Assume there is a D president in 20 months (whichever one it might be), which current candidates for prez would make great cabinet members and in which department? Name three please.

I'll set aside who would be "great," and deal with who makes sense, how about?

Michael Bennet is the former superintendent of Denver public schools, so Education Department makes sense.

I've long thought Klobuchar will get attorney general attention from whoever wins.

And for a third one, I'd say Inslee for Interior Secretary or some other post that deals with climate change?

Unsure if you covered it, but just curious if you could recommend a good piece or pieces about the last race to become DNC Chair since curious how Tom Perez and Keith Ellison did so well against Pete Buttigig?

Good idea! Here's one from Politico. I haven't seen a whole lot of other ones, but it's something I've wondered about.

How many more of these guys are going to jump into the Democratic primary race? Surely we're reaching a saturation point?

I think the only big remaining question mark at this point is Stacey Abrams. Unless of course Bloomberg decides to change his mind.

When Biden is taking questions from people when he's in diners etc he seems off his game, doesn't finish sentences, goes off on another topic. Do you think he will improve with time?

He's always been much better at giving speeches. I think people are still underestimating his ability to say the wrong thing in candid situations. It's going to happen; it's just a matter of how often and how damaging.

Does any of this move the needle or are we in a place where actual evidence of obstruction of justice just doesn't matter? While Trump seems to have Teflon, does this affect Dowd in any way?

I think, as I wrote, that a recording of the Flynn phone call could be pretty compelling, depending upon how transactional it is. Remember this is the stuff Flynn lied about and clearly didn't want people to know. That could be because he was worried about the Logan Act, but it could be for another reason that would only become clear once we hear what was said.

I don’t think so. Now after judge ordered release of Flynn docs by end of month, he can talk about Flynn’s help, etc. I think this is why Dems not (yet) upset with Mueller. No?

As I've said before, I think people should be wary of assuming Mueller is going to add much to the record. He's not a guy terribly interested in making a big public statement like Comey.

Are Dems in a kind of Catch 22....If they don't impeach they can't get compliance from the WH.....if they do impeach they risk riling up Trump's base and getting him re-elected?

Again, I'm not sure that impeaching would necessarily help them gain compliance through the legal process. But it's almost like the White House is tempting them to do it.

AG Barr seems to think that the FBI's investigation into possible ties between Russia and Trump campaign figures was undertaken on false premises for partisan reasons. What happens if that's what he and the DOJ IG conclude? Other than Trump's re-election, I mean.

Barr's comments in that Fox News interview today made it pretty clear he's relatively convinced something untoward happened here. I don't know how else you can read them.

I think the IG concluding that -- or Durham -- would carry more weight than Barr at this point.

Barr has appointed federal prosecutor from Connecticut, John Durham, to investigate the origins of the Russia probe. Durham has investigated the FBI before and found wrong doing and has also investigated CIA in the past. Because he's a federal prosecutor he can look into individuals who no longer work for the government. Since Durham has worked for both Republican and Democratic administrations do you think his findings will be accepted by all?

I did a profile of Durham a couple days back. I think if anyone has the ability to reach a conclusion that would be accepted by both sides, he might be it.

That said, most people would have said that about Mueller.

Thanks to questioner for asking and your link. I didn't know before how he dropped out before the final vote and the suspicion was he didn't want it known had badly he'd do. That's something.

There's no real reason to drop out before the vote unless it's that! But I think it's also worth noting that a DNC chair race is different from a race for office. He had to appeal to a bunch of party insiders. That said, the DNC race isn't his only loss. He got trounced by Richard Mourdock in the 2010 Indiana state treasurer race.

You seem rather dismissive of Biden's chances of maintaining his lead. I assume that's because he doesn't fit the image of who we think a 2020 Dem party should be nominating (minority or female). The 2016 GOP primary revealed how detached the party electorate was from the party elite, maybe 2020 will reveal the same thing about how far the base is from the twitterverse elite of the current Democratic party.

I'm mostly skeptical because:

1) We rarely see a frontrunner go wire-to-wire.

2) There is plenty in Biden's past to suggest he will stumble.

3) Other candidates are more ideologically in line with the party base.

4) This early in the race is often almost completely about name ID.

Recognizing this is an overly broad classification, who would you say are the most moderate Democrats who have thrown their hats in the ring?

Biden

Klobuchar

Bullock

Hickenlooper

Delaney

Serious question, can you imagine a Justice department under a Democratic President in 2021 prosecuting, convicting, and jailing a former President Trump? Or is that something that even most Democratic politicians believe is just not viable in our system?

I highly doubt it. Whoever is in charge will just want to move on and not do something so divisive.

The 2016 GOP primary was a race to see who can throw more red meat at the crowd (lock her up, etc...). Why aren't we seeing something similar on the Dem side for 2020? I surely would have thought by now we'd see the first candidate who promised to have Trump led off the Inaugural platform in handcuffs.

We're seeing lots of red meat; it's just on the policy front.

I think things might trend more in the direction you're talking about, though. We already saw a few embrace impeachment. If Biden keeps getting momentum by being the "anti-Trump candidate," others will feel pressure to match that.

Do we know who it was? Dowd? Sekulow? I'm unclear on the likely month/year of the call -- could it be Guiliani? Could that attorney be prosecuted for witness tampering or obstruction?

It was Dowd. And it's worth noting that Mueller was aware of the call but apparently didn't feel it was chargeable. But we'll have to see what was said.

I now see all these Republicans coming out against the Alabama law. Please, the Republican Party platform is to repeal Roe v Wade...what do they think will happen in Roe v Wade is repealed? It would look exactly like these bills.

I'm not convinced that's true. The issue would go to the states, but would GOP-controlled states pass laws that don't provide exceptions for rape and incest, like Alabama? That would be really unpopular. Only 1 in 6 Americans doesn't believe in that exception, according to polls.

They could try it, but it would be a big risk.

Any idea of the timeframe of his investigation?

None. Just that he's been at it a few weeks.

So when people say O'Rourke should run for Senate in Texas and Abrams should run for Senate in Georgia, can I just reply Pete Buttegeg should go back at run for Indiana State Treasurer?

Or governor!

Aaron, We are supposed to have a system of checks and balances among the three branches of government, but I am not seeing any checks against the judiciary. Whatever the Supreme Court says becomes enshrined in law. In rare instances congress can and does enact a law to overcome a Supreme Court decision, but this does not cover constitutional issues. Other than norms, what is to stop an ideologically fueled majority on the Supreme Court from imposing some really bad law on the country?

You are too quick to dismiss Congress's role! They can pass a law, and if the Supreme Court strikes it down, they can pass a constitutional amendment. That might be really difficult, given the political makeup of our country right now, but the check is there.

They really don't want to hear what I want to tell them, which is that it's overload. I'm tuning 90% of it out, and I'm a political junkie. If anyone else is even thinking about it, don't. Or wait until January.

I cover this stuff for a living, and I sympathize with this. It's just so unwieldy that even analysis is such a crapshoot at this point.

Nancy Pelosi has taken impeachment off the table, fearing an electoral backlash. At what point do our leaders actually make decisions based upon the merits, rather than their own political expediency. Mitch McConnell has been operating as a political hack for years, stonewalling everything Obama wanted to do, and only passing Trump initiatives he agrees with (like Judges). Now Pelosi seems to be trying to have it both ways, condemning Trump verbally, but not doing anything. She seems to be just another do nothing Democrat who talks a good game, but doesn't act. Are there no profiles in courage anymore?

You bring up a good point that I keep coming back to: If this is a constitutional crisis and what's happening is so dangerous, isn't it incumbent upon you to do something NOW rather than waiting for 18 months for an election?

Her counter-argument to that would be: Well, it won't work, and it might just extend his presidency another 4 years.

...Motivate your base to win elections. And he's got some small amount of experience in these matters. So if Rove is right, then wouldn't the Dems be best off nominating a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren? Trump clearly embraces Rove's strategy. If the Dems do likewise, wouldn't it come down to who has the larger base, and in which states?

Conventional wisdom has long held that nominating someone like Biden is the best for the general election, because they can appeal to the middle. But given there are so many fewer actual swing voters than their used to be, base-motivation is a much bigger and more important factor than it used to be. I think the two parties are evolving when it comes to their conventional wisdom on this. Plus, those middle-of-the-road candidates might have other liabilities.

It seems to be: Trump is a horrible, dangerous person. But that was Hillary's campaign message. It didn't work.

Did it not work because it was a bad message, though, or because the messenger wound up being as unpopular as Trump himself? I'm not sure you can say everything Clinton tried didn't work because she lost, nor can you say everything Trump did was genius because he won. These are fine margins.

Has her masterful handling of the Speakership vs. Trump quieted the young'uns who wanted her gone or are they still fomenting rebellion?

I'll leave it for others to decide about that characterization of his speakership. But no there isn't much of a rebellion, because she has said she'll leave in 3 more years. And anybody who challenges her before then is going to risk angering a lot of people. They might as well just wait it out.

They are doing it now.

It's possible! It's also possible they are just trying to pass the most extreme bill possible to try and get this to the Supreme Court, which they acknowledge is the goal.

This is why the clamoring for impeachment reminds me of expert baseball fans who chime in with advise like "Just throw strikes!" Ah -- it's so simple and the outcome so binary and predictable.

It's not an invalid argument. That said, I'm not absolutely convinced it would backfire like the CW says it did in 1998.

Have a great weekend everybody, and be good to one another.

-Aaron

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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