Q&A: Ask Amber from The Fix

Aug 22, 2017

If it's lunchtime Tuesday, it's Fix politics time. What do you want to know?

After my own "working vacation," I'm back and ready to answer your questions on politics and breakfast tacos. What do you want to know? 

Trump is soon to visit Reno. Will/should Sen Heller attend?

Yeah, this is a toughie for Heller, who is one of the most vulnerable Republican senators up for reelection next year. (And perhaps the most vulnerable senator, period.) Trump didn't win Nevada in 2016, and during the health-care battle, Trump threatened Heller's job if he didn't vote for the Senate's repeal plan. (Heller ultimately did vote "yes" when it mattered.) 

I'm thinking out loud here, but I'd say it might not be a bad idea for Heller to stand by Trump now. Democrats already won't vote for him, but he could shore up some of the damage done by conservatives when he publicly spoke out against the Senate's Obamacare repeal. Plus, his neighbor, Jeff Flake, is facing down a well-funded primary challenger backed by Trump after Flake gave his own version of the middle finger to the president. 

Did you try to avoid politics while on vacation?

Ugh, yes, but it was unavoidable. Last week was not the ideal week to go on vacation! 

Why haven't we taken down Mount Rushmore? Clearly it's nothing but a tribute to slave owners and people that believed the minority was only 3/5s a person. It's time to be on the left side of history and stop the KKK loving right from having this tribute

I *think* you're being facetious here, arguing that political correctness is a slippery slope. The city the Washington Post is based in is named after a slave owner. 

The other side would argue that they are not asking to remover any reference to slavery, just monuments to people who fought to keep slavery -- and, as Charlottesville underscored, have now become a symbol for white supremacists to rally around, and even allegedly kill people. 

I'm no fan of the president, but I was pleased with the general outlines of the way forward for Afghanistan last night. With one glaring exception - after being in a country and assisting in decimating its infrastructure and civil society, how likely is it that avoiding nation-building would result in further resentment and even eventually backfire? We came and destroyed things for 16 years, but we're not going to spend money on putting it back together and leave that to others to do? Especially after decades of this being a pretty key part of our foreign policy?

That's a good point, and I can only answer it by copping out of a real answer: There are no easy answers in Afghanistan. Trump, and Obama, and Bush, were faced with choosing the least-bad of really bad options. 

That being said, Trump left open the door to nation building, in a way. He promised "economic development" and leaving Afghanistan stable. I think he was acknowledging a common military strategy, which is that the U.S. can't just defeat the Islamic State and al-Qaeda and leave. That's arguably how these guys got started in the first place.

As to you not being a Trump supporter and not hating what Trump said about Afghanistan, my colleagues talked to Derek Chollet, an assistant secretary of defense in the Obama administration who now serves as a defense analyst at the German Marshall Fund who said: "To be honest, it’s probably pretty close to what a Hillary Clinton would do."

Someone said if you're famous only for defending slavery, then the monument has to go. That's the distinction which would allow Washington and Jefferson to stay.

I feel like as a society, we've generally agreed upon that, right? 

There have been references to Trump's stability, competence, or lack thereof, recently from members of both parties. Is this something that is talked about off the record among Congress members and other officials in Washington? If so, is there real concern here, or is this partisan politics at it's best (worst)?

Yes, some world leaders and members of Congress, on both sides, have wondered about this behind closed doors.

But I think Republicans in Congress have come to accept that Trump is Trump is Trump, they won't change him, and they're going to have to deal with him. Paul Ryan made that clear in his town hall Monday night, when he refused to ask Trump to apologize for giving white supremacists cover. 

In other words, the majority of them aren't spending time trying to psychoanalyze him. They're trying to figure out how to work with him. 

Do you see any ideal weeks in the future? Are you an optimist?

Never take a vacation. Never. 

Kristen Sinema looks ready to jump into the Arizona Senate race. Size up the race between her and Flake?

I was just talking to an Arizona Democratic politico about this. It could be a big fight! Rep. Kyrsten Sinema has spent her time in Congress calculating to be in the middle -- she'll vote with Republicans sometimes and has opposed Nancy Pelosi for leader. Flake, meanwhile, is a conservative who's become a sort of hero on the left for being the public face of opposition to Trump. Democrats say Arizona is more purple than we give it credit for, and if Sinema and Washington Democrats can raise and spend enough money, they think they can take the seat. I don't see it yet -- McCain easily won in November against a strong opponent, Ann Kirkpatrick. But Democrats may have found another strong opponent in Sinema. 

Amber, I like how you frame information...presenting what one side says and then what the other side says (instead of pronouncing one side correct and the other one wrong...as some journalists do).

Thanks! We at The Fix do not share our personal opinions; we analyze what's happening using data, talking to insiders and reviewing past precedent. 

She's the Missouri state senator who called for President Trump's assassination. Why haven't prominent Democrats like Pelosi and Schumer and Hillary Clinton called on her to resign, and why hasn't the press asked leading Democrats whether she should resign? If a Republican state senator called for President Obama's assassination, I'm sure the media would be falling over themselves asking Republicans for their position. Why the double standard?

I don't think national Democrats are giving her cover. I just think it's not on their radar/something they want to make on their radar. Missouri Democrats are putting pressure on her to apologize, or be investigated for what she says. 

How will Trump ever fill the positions in government, now that he has alienated everyone. What does this mean for the country?

His government is indeed historically understaffed. But alienation doesn't necessarily mean people won't take jobs in his administration. Some high-level Trump staffers who were extremely offended by Trump's equivocating of white supremacists and counter protesters have decided to stay on. (I'm thinking in particular here of economic adviser Gary Cohn, who is Jewish.)

We haven't had any leaks lately. Thoughts are to why?

Good question! As the basis of your question indicates, they operate largely behind closed doors, and I think many of the leaks come from when they share information with Congress. So maybe that's not happening right now? Or maybe there are leaks in the works that I have absolutely no idea about and should just stop taking ;)

Did President Trump cause enough damage to his eyes after looking at the eclipse to cause him to cancel his rally today? It would be interesting to monitor what side effects, if any he suffers.

So, Truth talk. I wore the glasses when I looked at the eclipse, but I also took a photo of the sun w/ my camera, sans glasses, for a second, and was terrified I messed up my eyes. I felt a lot better when I saw the president glance up and he hasn't gone blind. At least .. not yet. 

Are there any new developments concerning Repeal/Replace? I really hope there is some work being done to improve and fix the ACA, and not this repeated attempt to repeal.

It looks like for now, you're getting your wish. Some senators are working behind the scenes to at least shore up the subsidies that make health care affordable for lower-income people, before Trump cuts them, as he's threatened to do. That could lead to more bipartisanship in the future. I say this because Obamacare repeal doesn't seem to be in the cards right now at all. Republicans are mostly in consensus they need to pivot to tax reform, so they have SOMETHING to show for their first year controlling all of Washington. 

If your in GOP congressional leadership what are you more concerned about for 2018: Conservative leaning independents abandoning the GOP during the midterm election because of their dislike of Trump or hard core base voters loyal to Trump staying home because they disprove of Congresses' ineffectiveness in carrying out Trump's agenda?

 I think right now, Trump's approval ratings are so low (37% according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll), that losing people who voted for him in November is likely Republicans' primary concern next November. But depends what state or district the candidate you're most concerned about is in. 

"Trump is Trump is Trump, they won't change him, and they're going to have to deal with him." At what point do Republicans decide that dealing with him is a NOT an option, and that the country is better off with him impeached?

Charlottesville wasn't it. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) doesn't even think Trump owes people an apology. 

Hi Amber -- thanks for taking questions today and hope that at least part of your time away was restful. I'm no psychiatrist either, but the thing that strikes me most about Trump is that he just never seems very happy. In every picture he's always scowling, pouting, almost, like he'd rather be somewhere else. Jeez, even on the WH balcony during the eclipse -- a feel good moment if there ever was one -- he looked like he'd rather be at the dentist. I thought presidents were supposed to project positivity and optimism, but he seems to have changed that model forever, and whatever you think about his policies, that (his constantly angry and combative demeanor) is hurting the country and the presidency. The base might love it, but it's not wearing very well. Just my two cents.

Two cents appreciated!

I'm not privy on how much Trump enjoys the day to day of his job. But we know by now he has no desire to dig into policy. He loves watching cable news. And he made clear in a speech last night that he takes his duties as commander-in-chief seriously. But he absolutely hates the special counsel investigation into his campaign's Russia ties, and he has a very hard time, if not impossible time, letting go of grudges. Maybe he enjoys constantly fighting, even with members of his own party, and obsessively watching cable news. I sure wouldn't!  

Why would they reach this conclusion, though? What outcome could be worse than the one they are currently living?

One where they spend the next six months to a year either in impeachment proceedings or fall out from Trump resigning and then comes the 2018 midterm elections, where control of the House could be up for grabs, and they have nothing to show for controlling Washington for two years save getting rid of their own president. That would probably be a pretty bad outcome, from Republicans' perspective. 

If Trump wanted out of Afghanistan it suggests that the military men in the White House are calling the shots, if you'll forgive the pun. Afghanistan has ruined many military careers and seen off the Russians, the British and will undoubtedly see off the US because, ugly as the Taliban are, it's their country. So where sits Trump's simplistic 'killing terrorists' reason for upping engagement. Is US foreign military policy now out of the president's hands?

Trump has definitely handed over most of the decision making on Afghanistan to the Pentagon and his generals. Our talented, well-sourced White House team has the inside scoop on how he ended up bowing to the generals. 

Shorter answer to your question: US foreign military policy is not out of the president's hands. But the generals have a lot more say in it in this Trump administration than perhaps previous ones. 

It seems to me GOP leaders took a deep breath and have decided to ignore Trump. Trump has zero ability to turn his "impulses" into policies on his own. He can't focus for long on anything but himself. He'll tweet and scream at television, but it looks as though they are bundling him off to rallies with smiles and "yes, whatever." I guess an "enemy" could motivate him but in terms of policy, he doesn't care.

They can ignore him (and to some degree they are. "What's that? You want us to try again to repeal Obamacare, Mr. President? Let's do tax reform instead.)

But they also need the president to sign any bills they pass into law. So, you can't ignore the president entirely. 

I have a theory about how our politics have become so partisan that I’m curious to get your take on. I feel like the genesis of our inability to cooperate in Congress began in the late 80’s early 90’s when the WWII generation, which understood common cause and shared sacrifice, began to be replaced as the dominant group in Congress by the baby boomer generation, which has proven to be eminently selfish and self-centered. It will only be when those individuals are replaced in large numbers by the more practical and largely non-ideological millennial generation that civility and cooperation could return to our politics.

Hooray millennials! Saving the world from baby boomers. 

I think generational dynamics certainly has a role to play in our country's growing partisanship. But other political, economic and social factors are the primary driver, say political scientists: Gerrymandering, people moving to live with like-minded people, fears of an economic recovery skipping over people. It all leads to hard lines being drawn. 

I keep wondering if they're the counterparts to Al Haig and a few others who held the White House together while Nixon was mentally disintegrating during the final weeks and months of Watergate. Not that I was a fan of Haig et al., but without them the situation would've been even worse. Who do you think would be our latter-day Goldwater, i.e., someone so influential upon the President that he could convince him it was time to pack up and leave the White House?

His family. And maybe even not them. 

I assume Trump pardoning convicted former sheriff Joe Arpaio tonight is a given, and that the crowd in the arena will love it. But won't it hurt supporters of his like Kelli Ward?

I don't know the odds, but I'm preparing for it to happen, if that tells you anything.

I think on the contrary (and I could be wrong). Arpaio is a hero on the right, and after being convicted for not following the law on illegal immigrants, a martyr. If Trump pardons Arpaio (and endorses Flake challenger Kelli Ward), it could be a boon to Ward in terms of conservative voters. 

Will the Bob Menendez bribery trial affect the Senate?

Yes. If he's convicted of bribery and corruption in his trial, starting in September, then the seat will be open, and Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) could appoint a replacement, and that senator -- potentially a Republican -- could have a shot at winning election again in 2018. 

I'll do an explainer on all this sometime in the near future. 

Newt Gingrich? Robert and Rebekah Mercer?

Not Newt. I don't think he has as much standing as he likes to portray himself having.

The Mercers are intriguing. They are by far Trump's most loyal donors. But, Trump ostensibly has his own money (not sure how liquid it is), so he could possibly live without them if it meant keeping the presidency?  We are waaaaay into hypothetical land right now. 

Wouldn't that be like handing the Democrats a gift-wrapped Senate seat, assuming they find a strong candidate?

Possibly! Flake is conservative, too, but he'd be in a much stronger position in the general election than Ward because he's managed to moderate himself by standing up to Trump. Trump won Arizona, but only by 3.5 points.

Going through with the President's trip West seems political malpractice after his fairly well received speech last night, risking more controversy that immediately overshadows his commander in chief success. Is this inertia, concern with reassuring the alt right base, or just Trump being Trump? Just seems obvious that he should not do this today.

Trump LOVES these rallies. Not a chance he wouldn't go. And you're right, there are a lot of chances for him to make controversies for himself. Trump gotta Trump!

Rallies like tonight's in Arizona to his red-meat base are just too irresistible for Trump to stay on message, right? What do you think will be his biggest gaffe?

I think a headline will probably be him going after Jeff Flake hard. 

How many breakfast tacos did you have on vacation?

None. I was in New England. I don't think they'd recognize a tortilla from a Tostito chip. 

Thanks, as always, for your fantastic questions. Let's do it again next Tuesday! And if you have more questions I didn't get to, don't forget to check out my colleague, Aaron Blake, for his live chat Friday at noon. https://live.washingtonpost.com/fix-ask-aaron-20170825.html

In This Chat
Amber Phillips
Amber Phillips writes about politics for The Fix. She was previously the one-woman D.C. bureau for the Las Vegas Sun and has reported from Boston and Taiwan.
Recent Chats
  • Next: