Q&A: Ask Amber from The Fix

Nov 14, 2017

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

I was listening to Jeff Sessions's somewhat newsy testimony to the House Judiciary Committee this morning. What are you curious about?

How's your 401k doing, Amber?

If you're reading this and not saving for retirement, START SAVING NOW.

If you're Trump and you didn't want Congress to touch my or anyone else's 401k plans as part of tax reform, well, so far you've won. The House bill leaves 401k plans alone, after House Republicans suggested they would override the president and cut down on how much pre-tax money people can contribute. 

What does this say about the morality & judgment of these 47 Christian Pastors? https://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2017/11/53_pastors_sign_letter_of_supp.html

it says they believe Moore that he did not sexually assault or inappropriately touch teenagers. 

Moore has not ruled out dating teenagers when he was in his 30s.  But Moore has also had a decades head start on these accusations, building his reputation in Alabama as an unapologetic Christian conservative. In fact, some polls after the news broke suggest half of evangelical conservatives are MORE likely to vote for Moore in the wake of these allegations, because they simply trust him more than the media and five women they don't know.

Most Republicans back here in Washington, including Jeff Sessions just now, side with the women.  

Besides him saying he can't recall for the umpteenth time...

Yeah, here are my takeaways so far (which I'll flesh out in a story this afternoon on The Fix):

1. Sessions can't remember a lot about Russia: He relied on journalism revealing his meetings with the Russian ambassador or talking Russia in a foreign policy meeting to jog his memory.


Sessions doesn't seem that keen on a special prosecutor for Hillary Clinton affairs: "I would say say 'looks like' is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel," he told Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) of various conservative talking points about Loretta Lynch, Hillary Clinton and James Comey.


3. Sessions sides with Roy Moore's accusers: "I have no reason to doubt these young women," he said.


4. Politics, politics, politics is king: Republicans largely praised Sessions for being touch on crime and immigration, and Democrats wanted to talk about Russia.

Until it's published in the media. And suddenly he can recall with absolute clarity that he did nothing wrong. This is our, what, third or fourth round of this? Does anyone in Washington believe him?

Democrats in Congress certainly don't. But Sessions has given himself plausible deniability -- how can you prove someone remember or doesn't remember something? 

Amber, if a Democrat beats Trump in '20, can we expect that Administration to investigate wrongdoings in the Trump Administration? And the next Republican to take office to investigate the previous Democrat?

That is a chilling prospect, but it's worth asking if that's the road we're on: A Congress of one party investigating the president of the other. In some sense, that kind of partisanship seems built into our fabric as a nation: Every impeachment proceeding of a president has been started by a Congress of the other party. 

Can the Post make a guide to telling these future indictees apart? They're all white guys who are prematurely balding. Except for Steve Bannon, of course.

If you got some time and a cup of coffee, this graphic is worth a read: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/trump-russia/?utm_term=.27eec688c6c6

Might this be the final blow to an administration that is already treading water with a lot of lead weights around their ankles>?

I think the Robert Mueller investigation -- just its existence -- is probably a heavier weight, to use your metaphor

Any chance the House Bill will start to look more like the Senate Bill so there's no need for another vote after the 'Bama Special Election?

Well, it's probably too late. The House is expected to vote on their bill Thursday; the Senate is full steam ahead on theirs. IF these bills pass their respective chambers, they are different enough that there will likely have to be  more votes in each chamber to agree on one version of the legislation. And you're absolutely right that no matter what happens in the Dec. 12 Alabama special election, the next senator from Alabama will likely be an unreliable vote for tax reform. 

As Republicans struggle with their Roy Moore problem, I have been surprised that Jeff Sessions' name has not come up as a potential write-in candidate. Why not, as he would seem to be maybe the only Alabama politician who might manage to win a write-in campaign as he appeals to both Moore supporters and establishment-type Republicans? He must worry that Trump may yet give him the axe as AG, and helping to maintain a GOP Senate majority would make him quite a hero in the party. Would he even have to resign as AG since he is simply allowing people to write in his name?

His name has come up among  Washington Republicans desperate to get rid of Roy Moore -- for the reasons you explain -- but Team Sessions batted that idea down. Why risk your dream job, as beleaguered as Sessions is there, for a write-in campaign at the last minute that you're not guaranteed to win? Moore's name would still be on the ballot, and having two Republicans could just split the vote and -- gasp -- hand the election to Democrats. 

Hi Amber -- thank you for taking questions today and for your insights. So let me get this straight: Moore drops out, Session takes his place (as a write in candidate?), allowing Trump to appoint a new AG not bound to any sort of recusal who can fire Mueller and shift the focus to investigating the Clintons from now until the end of time. Hard to find any losers in that scenario (except Democrats, of course): Trump gets rid of Sessions, who never really wanted the AG job in the first place; Republicans who wanted to dump Moore can still look righteous; the pesky problem of possible collusion and impeachment goes away; and maybe, just maybe, the Republicans get finally something passed and everyone lives happily ever after. Your take?

As Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard pointed out, here's one potential downside of our hypothetical write-in campaign game theory: Sessions gets back in the Senate, votes to impeach Trump. 

http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/11/09/after-endorsing-democrat-teenagers-judge-fires-back-denial/

We can do exactly what Stephanie McCrummen and Beth Reinhard -- the Post reporters who broke the Roy Moore story -- did. Find news, report it as accurately as possible, and publish it as soon as possible. In terms of litigating sexual assault claims int he press, their story was as close to proof as you can get. I mean, they went back to a court date 38 years ago to confirm it existed at the time one of Moore's accusers said

I'm curious about this: do members of The Fix team specialize in topics, are topics or articles assigned to team members, or are you free to find something noteworthy to report on? With so much going on in US politics these days, organization and prioritization must be needed. Thanks.

Hi! Good question. Our paper's political team is magnificently large enough that I don't have time to list everyone's topic specialities (beats, in journalism jargon). But here are the general areas of focus for my team members on The Fix, which is but one section of the broader politics team:

Me: Congress and state houses and governors
Callum Borchers: the intersection of media and politics

Eugene Scott: identity politics

Aaron Blake: The White House 

So, I know you can only suppose, but is Mitch doing damage control, trying to keep the seat, or something else? I want him to be doing this for the right reasons, but seasoned veteran that he is, I can only assume he is worried that a write in will split the GOP in AL, and allow the Democrat to end up winning the seat - making the already precarious spilt even closer. What say you? And, on that note how much closer are the Democrats to winning one or both houses in 18? What was not really feasible 3 or so months ago seems almost within their grasp - unless they pull a SNL skit and get even older between now and Nov 2018 (idea wise)?

I think it's a safe bet that politics plays a role in any politicians' decisions, no matter how well intentioned that decision may be. Here are my educated guesses on why Mitch McConnell is ditching Roy Moore:

1. He believes the women and think Moore is a potential child molester and doesn't think someone like that should be allowed to serve in one of the most exclusive legislative bodies in the world.
2. Republicans never liked Moore to begin with. He's too far right, too controversial, and too much of an unreliable vote. McConnell's allies spent tens of millions of dollars to try to get Luther Strange to win the primary over Moore.
3. If Moore gets elected, he could hold onto that seat for decades, whereas if a Democrat got elected, he might lose again in six years when his term is up. 
4.  McConnell's No. 1 job is keeping his party's Senate majority. If Moore wins, Republicans up for election in 2018 and even 2020 would have to answer to whether they support Moore or stand by him. The attack ads write themselves. 

The guy doesn’t have any recollections when convenient and doesn’t have any notes. I believe our Senate is full of pretty competent and sharp people but he is leading me to think I’m incorrect.

So, Sessions's response to you is essentially what he told Congress today: "It was a brilliant campaign in many ways, but it was a form of chaos every day, from Day One we traveled sometimes to several places in one day. Sleep was in short supply. And I was still a full time senator with a very full schedule." He later added some of the meetings in question happened 18 months ago. That being said, when Sessions couldn't remember his meetings with the Russian ambassador, and he got called back to Congress to testify, it strains credibility that he then didn't have his aides help him remember any and all meetings related to Russia so he wouldn't be put in this position again.

Now that accusations (including those many decades old) of sexual harassment and rape are being treated more seriously than "drag a hundred dollar bill through a trailer park . . . ", how will this affect the legacy of both Clintons?

And the current president. 

Is this what will finally get Alabamians to swing, or is he just "another part of the swamp"?

Hah. No. Paul Ryan definitely = swamp in Alabama, to the extent these voters even know who he is. As Leada Gore, a fantastic political reporter for AL.com told me for my 5-Minute Fix newsletter (wapo.st/fix-newsletter): She felt as if Alabama voters had decided that Moore was the lesser of two evils: a flawed Republican vs. a pro-abortion-rights Democrat who could help Democrats flip the Senate.

“I'm not sure if the rural vote, which is 99.99 percent of Alabama, would leave Moore under almost any circumstances,” Gore said.

Hi Amber, What are you seeing/hearing about Puerto Ricans relocating to FL post-hurricane? Any idea how many have resettled there permanently? This has the potential to tip the state fairly decisively in one direction, with the obvious impact on presidential races as well. Thanks.

Hi! This isn't my beat (to use a journalism jargon I explain in a question above). But more than a demographics change, what Democrats need is much more difficult to get: A behavioral change in how often their base votes.

With someone else assigned to the intersection of media and politics...does that mean that you can't address questions on this subject?

Not at all. I'd be happy to try to answer questions. Or I'll just poke my head over to Cal's desk and ask him! In this chat and especially in my three-day-a-week newsletter, The 5-Minute Fix, I often share thoughts from the rest of our Fix team on news I don't cover. 

As for the Clintons, there is a big difference between a relationship between Two Consenting Adults (Monica Lewinsky) and a D.A. cruising young teenage girls at the Local Mall!

Legally, yes. 

But I do think both incidents are more nuanced than what the law says. A man's authority his accuser, especially when that accuser is trying to further his or her career or life in some way related to that man, is a huge part of the story. 

Moore is 70, so 2-3 terms max IMO. And the seat will be up again in 2020.

Yes, re seat being up in 2020, not in six years. Thank you! 

And to the age question, Richard Shelby, who is Alabama's senior senator and won reelection last year at age 80, could also decide in six years he wants to go fishing or something. 

New twist in Russia probe as Donald Trump Jr releases WikiLeaks messages over Clinton's hacked emails Question - Was the July 2016 FBI investigation prompted by Trump's remarks? Comey says FBI began investigation into Russia meddling in July 2016 On July 27, 2016, Trump was speaking to a crowd in Doral, Florida, when he said: "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 (Clinton) emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."

The Fix's Aaron Blake has a full timeline of DJTJ's communications with Wikileaks that suggests he did at least coordinate with the site. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/11/14/the-clear-timeline-suggesting-donald-trump-jr-coordinated-with-wikileaks/?utm_term=.2770a6439c37

Has he just signed his own death warrant as a politician? Or is the GOP doomed? I can't see condoning child molestation as a winning election strategy.

Umm...I beg to disagree. I CAN see condoing child molestation as a winning election strategy.

As for McConnell's future, there's no doubt Bannon wants him to go. But I have a hard time seeing enough Republicans winning primaries and taking out Democrats to vote him out of the leadership post next year. I break down the Bannon/McConnell drama more here:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/10/26/how-to-argue-about-the-brewing-war-between-steve-bannon-and-mitch-mcconnell/

I was surprised by what didn’t happen on the Trump Asian trip: no provocative missle launch by NK, something I was totally expecting. Why would NK miss this great opportunity? Thanks for the great chats!

So I'm no North Korea expert, but they know full well it's a suicide mission to attack the U.S. 

For a great rundown of what else didn't happen on the trip (Trump controversy, until the very end), read The Post's Ashley Parker, who's been with him these past 12 days: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-asia-trip-was-mostly-free-of-incidents--until-it-wasnt/2017/11/14/3b0aa1f2-c8d8-11e7-8321-481fd63f174d_story.html?tid=pm_pop

Which Senators could you see "having his back"? Is there a caucus within the Senate that you could see welcoming him? Tea Party, Freedom Caucus....?

This is a good question. Right now, no one. I don't see anyone having his back. Even Sessions said he believes Moore's accusers. 

I dunno, seems to me that Bannon's star began fading the moment he left the WH.

I think it's too early to make a verdict on Bannon, but signs don't point to a show of strength on his part: The candidate he's backing in Alabama beat out the establishment in a primary, yes, but now he's imploding. 

It is basketball season and this old coach knows the saying, “keep your eyes on the ball”, applies to politics as well as hoops. What do you say, given the quantity of news, allegations, and counter charges are the most important things we voters should be focusing on?

Hi coach! What a great question. I'd say:

1. The findings of a special counsel investigation into Russia meddling and whether the Trump campaign helped and whether the president obstructed justice. This is an extraordinary investigation into a sitting president and his campaign and a foreign government.
2. The split in the Republican Party, both here in Washington and among voters, between the told guard and Trump. 
3. Whether Democrats can land on a successful campaign message that isn't just "Trump is bad."

And apologies to all the ones I missed; a lot of interest today in politics, which makes me happy. See y'all next week (yes I'll be chatting the week of Thanksgiving. I'm not THAT lazy). And Aaron Blake will have a chat at noon Friday, as always. 

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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.
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