Live chat with The Fix: What will impeachment mean in the 2020 election?

Dec 13, 2019

Washington Post reporter Aaron Blake took your questions on the impeachment inquiry and the 2020 election. Join the chat every Friday at 12 p.m. ET.

For the fourth time in American history, we've had a vote in favor of impeaching an American president. Next week, Trump is likely to be the third to actually be impeached.

Oh, and there's also an election going on.

What's on your mind?

I am trying to understand the difference between Trump's actions and those of Biden's re the Ukraine. This may be a bit out of your bailiwick, but what do you perceive the difference between these two regarding the Ukraine aid?

Reporting has indicated that the prosecutor who had investigated Burisma wasn't actively investigating it at the time Biden was applying pressure. What's more, he was removed because he wasn't tough enough on corruption. So the idea that Biden was trying to protect his son's employer was a stretch. What's more, Biden's pressure campaign was completely in line with what the Western world wanted. In other words, it's more of a stretch to suggest he was acting in his personal interest.

In the case of Trump, he was pushing for investigations that basically only he was interested in, and it's obvious he would like the political benefits that would come with them.

Are there any lessons that the US should take from the elections last night in the UK? The perils of nominating someone too far to the left? The advantages of having an incumbent with ridiculous hair?

It's very tempting to compare the two, given the hair thing and the other similarities between Trump and Johnson. It's also tempting to compare Corbyn to Sanders and, to a lesser extent, Elizabeth Warren.

But the British Labour Party has also moved toward the middle on certain issues like climate. And Corbyn had many problems besides being an extremist -- most notable among them, allegations of anti-Semitism.

I just think such comparisons can often be too cute. That doesn't mean there isn't anything at all to learn, of course.

Hi Aaron -- thanks for taking questions on this historic Friday the 13th in politics. Republicans were incensed when Chairman Nadler abruptly ended yesterday's hearing after 12 hours and put over the vote to this morning. Then today, as expected, the articles passed with virtually no discussion and fanfare. If they were so mad that debate was cut off last night, why didn't they resume their yelling this morning? If their strategy was to keep the pressure on at every turn, it seems to odd that they suddenly gave that up today when they could have kept the spectacle going and continued to try to wear the Democrats down.

If you think Republicans were actually shocked that they would delay the vote until today, I have some oceanfront property in Arizona to sell you.

Cameras exist in politics. Politicians play to them. Stagecraft is part of it. And nobody knows that more than Trump, who is a showman.

Can McConnell legally hand over the running of the senate’s part of the impeachment trial to the White House lawyers?

To the extent he has control over the process, he can take direction from anyone he wants.

Whether that's good for the legitimacy of the proceedings? That's another question.

If Democrats flip Michigan, Pennsylvania, and the Nebraska 2nd congressional district, but everything else remains the same from 2016, then Trump and the Democratic candidate tie at 269-269. The House would choose the president and the Senate would select the vice president. How likely a scenario do you think this is come November 2020?

Based on my calculations, 1 in 436.

Is there any hope that three GOP senators will stand up and say they are willing to vote with the Democrats in rules and on witnesses to ensure there is a fair Senate trial and not a sham trial rushed through my McConnell?

The GOP has a 53-47 majority. If Romney, Murkowski and Collins banded together to get some concessions on the ground rules? That's about the only way, but I wouldn't really expect it.

I'm a big supporter of Cory Booker, but if he can't get 4% in any polls this close to the Iowa caucuses, he deserves to be left out of the debates and should probably stop whining so much. The 4% threshold isn't unreasonable. He has had more than enough debate chances to gain support. With that said, is there any hope for him?

I'm not sure I'd count him out yet. But you're right that he hasn't really shown much life at all. I wondered if Harris getting out and Warren dropping might open the door. What he probably really needs is Biden to implode, but that isn't happening.

I'm a liberal Democrat and completely for removing Trump from office, but did Hunter Biden have a single qualification for his highly paid Burisma job, other than his last name? A single one?

Even Hunter Biden has acknowledged he might not have gotten the job if his dad hadn't been VP. 

But he also said: "I was vice chairman of the board of Amtrak for five years," he continued. "I was the chairman of the board of the U.N. World Food Program. I was a lawyer for Boies Schiller Flexner, one of the most prestigious law firms in -- in the world."

"I think that I had as much knowledge as anybody else that was on the board -- if not more."

If this happens, I really think impeachment will become not that big of a deal going forward... or at least until one happens that results in removal from office.

If he gets impeached and wins reelection, I think you'll see both parties get significantly more skittish about trying it again. Because before impeachment began, he was an underdog.

What's to stop McConnell from gavelling the first session of the trial to order, calling for a vote, then adjourning?

My understanding is that as long as the GOP votes for rules that would allow it, he can do that.

I think the Dems made a big mistake by not naming Bribery in their articles. That is something everyone can identify with and of course it's mentioned in the Constitution. You offer a policemen cash if he doesn't ticket you. You offer Ukraine millions for defense it they announce an investigation. Your thoughts please.

I've been on this for a while -- since even before Dems started talking about bribery -- and I tend to agree. I think they worried that they would have to prove it satisfied the statute, but they have given the GOP the argument that they aren't even accusing Trump of actual crimes. They've even taking to defending it WAS bribery, even though the articles don't say that.

Whether it will actually matter, I don't know, but this needed to be simplified to some extent, and that was the most obvious way to do it.

Oh my god. "Underqualified politician son gets lucrative job! News at 11!" Has no bearing on whether what Trump did was illegal, and I wish people -- even self-professed "liberal Democrats" -- would stop conflating the two.

The counterargument to this is that George Kent said he raised concerns about this with the VP's office, and they basically said they weren't going to deal with it.

Also, just because it's how the game is played doesn't necessarily mean we should just accept it.

Trump wants a show. This is the biggest venue he'll ever get.

Maybe, but a trial could be unpredictable. Is he doing to want to risk something that could be really damaging -- like John Bolton testifying?

I'm most curious about convict/acquit decision factors for the GOP senators up this cycle. They can't afford to alienate any of Trump's base, but also risk shredding any moderate, or at least, non-Trumpist credentials they might have had if they vote to acquit. (Thinking of Collins, McSally, Ernst, Tillis primarily here.) Of these four, which are most likely to vote "guilty" on at least one count? I'm considering Cory Gardner an almost-certain flip given CO's partisan lean right now, so his vote might not be as consequential regardless.

Collins is most likely to vote for removal, but I'd be surprised if she did. Same with Romney. They can instead say, "What the president did was wrong, but it wasn't impeachable." They'll point to House Dems not accusing him of a crime and the lack of the quid pro quo being tied directly to him. I don't think it's that much more complicated.

Was there a single Republican at any level who pushed back against Trump's mean- spirited tweet about this young girl? Not one? As a mom, I was appalled at the cruelty and I wondered how Republican parents could simply ignore it. Particularly after their quickly expressed outrage when Trump's teenage son's name was mentioned in testimony last week.

I don't think so. Rep. Johnson of Louisiana was asked about it today and said Trump "communicates in a unique way" and "has an unorthodox style."

Isn't this why the Democrats decided to impeach this president after so much provocation?

They say they were worried that Trump would just keep doing this kind of thing unless they are least tried. Whether that was truly the motivation, I'm not sure. It could simply have been because the base was so insistent.

When the Nunes memo was released, it was described in the Washington Post as a "joke" and a "sham". Your column today indicates that Nunes was more correct than Schiff. Also, the IG admitted that an FBI attorney created fraudulent evidence that was used as the basis of a sworn statement to the FISA court. Given the number of statements based on anonymous sources have later turned out to be incorrect, can you see how frustrating it is for news consumers to read so much news/analysis that relies on anonymous sources?

(Here's my piece from today on the Nunes memo.)

The "joke and sham" piece you are referring to was an opinion piece. I don't have any relationship with the opinion side, nor should our reporters be judged by what liberal opinion columnists -- or any other opinion columnists -- say.

We already know about the likely flips. Anybody to keep an eye on if this thing turns ugly?

Level 1 -- Romney, Murkowski, Collins

Level 2 -- Tillis, Sasse, Gardner, Alexander (that's when it would be getting ugly)

But again, I don't any Republicans vote to remove.

Is he just going to continue plying his trade (whatever that is) overseas, or will there be some legal repercussions for his behavior/dealings?

He is reportedly being investigated by the Southern District of New York, and he's certainly been quieter of late. That said, he can do what he wants until they act. 

One of the talking points I keep hearing in the course of the hearings is that Hunter Biden should be investigated for corruption. Is there any actual evidence that he engaged in anything corrupt while on the job? The whole arrangement of him getting a job is questionable, but did he actually do anything on the job that would fall into the corruption category? Actually, a simple question (is anything simple anymore?) is what was he doing for the company? That is, what was his actual job? One of the congressmen this week mentioned "clear evidence" against Hunter Biden, but there was no elaboration, and I have not seen anything in print... not that I actually believe it is humanly possible to actually read everything that has been printed about impeachment. When do you guys sleep?

Trump's idea was clearly that the wrongdoing was Joe Biden's, by pushing to remove the prosecutor. But because that's so obviously problematic, Republicans have tried to pretend he was really interested in Burisma's corruption and Hunter Biden's actions. It's not clear what actions Hunter Biden took could be considered corrupt, beyond accepting lucrative employment for which he was allegedly unqualified. Even the Ukrainians who are pushing to investigate Hunter Biden are basically just pointing to how much he was paid, so it sounds like there's not much more there, there.

How likely are the Republicans to (re)gain their majority in the House of Representatives in the 2020 election? What about the Democrats (re)taking the Senate?

It's unlikely unless Trump wins, certainly, and probably pretty comfortably. 

But remember this: Despite Trump losing the popular vote in 2016 by 2 points, he won 230 congressional districts, versus 205 for Clinton. It's not out of the question, if people vote party-line.

There was somebody recently who had spend the month looking into running for statewide office and at the end of that month announced he wasn't going to run citing time away from young family. I don't get, it took him a month to realize he had young kids? When a politician resigns or doesn't run for office, can they just acknowledge they won't win instead suddenly realizing they have young kids?

I mean, not to defense this too much, but everything is a balancing act. There will be sacrifices; you just need to decide whether the whole thing is worth it given those sacrifices. If you only have a 5% chance to win, staying home with your young kids probably tips the balance more easily.

Of course Hunter Biden wasn't qualified for that board seat. At least he was intellectually honest enough to acknowledge why he got it. Is Ivanka Trump qualified for her job? Is Jared Kushner for his? Is Chelsea Clinton qualified to sit on the board at Expedia? No and no and no. The children of celebrities and powerful officials getting privileged access to high-level jobs - independent of their qualifications for said jobs - isn't a new phenomenon. There's probably some level of reform possible for this, but not a whole lot the gov't can do re: private sector board positions.

The likeliest remedy here would be people punishing politicians for this stuff, which might make future pols urge their kids not to take such jobs!

Isn't it more than that? If Biden was getting rid of a corrupt prosecutor, isn't that making it *more likely* that Burisma would be investigated? It's not just a "stretch" or a "lack of evidence." The evidence directly contradicts the claim!

The prosecutor had at one point been looking into Burisma, so that's the argument, however stretched. But yes, the prosecutor was actually seen as weak on corruption. So the idea that Burisma was in trouble on his watch is very far-fetched.

I thought the "Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors" was the impeachment chat. Sorry Carolyn. Easy mistake.

Pay the man, Shirley.

Any reasonable path for the Democrats to (re)take the Senate in November 2020? Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, (which other Republican Senators) would need to lose?

Next on that list would be McSally and Arizona and Tillis in North Carolina. But they'll probably need both of them, given I expect the GOP to win back Doug Jones's seat in Alabama.

It seems his base is stagnant. Does Senate acquittal help or hurt him with suburban voters. Or has that ship sailed?

This is most likely to only change things on the margins, or impact enthusiasm (for example, if Trump voters thing he's been persecuted). I'm skeptical we'll see much of a measurable impact, but even a 1-2 point shift could have major implications -- as we saw in 2016!

Trump is impeached in the House, acquitted in the Senate...then what stops him from asking a foreign government to interfere in the 2020 elections? Seems Russia is already doing that...and the DOJ is giving them a free pass.

Feels like doing it again would be dicey, but he's already done it with Russia, Ukraine and China.

How would you handicap the 2020 election? Is Trump an underdog? Will impeachment help or hurt him?

He's an underdog right now. I know it's popular for analysts to say he's a sight favorite, but I just don't see it -- not just in the head-to-head polls and his approval rating, but in other areas as well. Philip Bump highlighted an interesting one this week: Trump won in large part because he won voters who disliked both him and Clinton. Among voters who dislike both him and Biden in 2020, though, he's losing badly.

That said, he can still draft down his opponents and change that dynamic. 

Maybe the RNC was correct? I mean he did snap his fingers and obliterate the Republican Party.

I think people who believe the GOP is going to be damaged for years once Trump is gone are going to be sorely disappointed. They've had 3 bad elections since he became president, but I don't really see signs of lasting damage -- in the form of people deserting the party, etc.

Can someone pay the son of a President or Vice President 10 million dollars a year to mow his grass on weekends? Is that okay or frowned upon?

Something tells me that might prove to be a political problem, at least. I'm guessing a legal one too, since it would obviously be funneling money to a politician's family at a rate that is clearly not close to market value.

Who would be Biden's best choices for VP? Would need to be someone a lot younger and healthier, preferably not a straight white male, right?

Pretty sure he'd go with Harris, Castro, Abrams or someone like Sen. Cortez Masto of Nevada.

There have been articles stating that up to 6-10 Democrats might vote against impeachment with no Republicans voting for. At one point are there enough Democrats opposed that it can EFFECTIVELY be called nothing more than a left-wing partisan witch hunt?

It would hardly be ideal for Dems if they had that many no votes -- and then all Republicans in the Senate voted not to remove him (and maybe Manchin crosses over there too).

Everyone, have a great weekend. We'll do this one last time this year next week. See you then!

-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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