Q&A: Ask Amber from The Fix

Nov 21, 2017

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

Seriously, where's Trump? It's 11:59 a.m. in Washington and he hasn't tweeted. What in the world of politics are y'all curious about? 

Hello, In your article from yesterday, you described Franken's response to the new allegation as a "non-denial denial" (you made it an entire bullet point of analysis). Do you not see the logical impossibility of either affirming or denying an event you have no recollection of? A politician takes endless photos with constituents, especially at a state fair. If he is innocent, it seems unreasonable to expect he would remember the circumstances of an unremarkable photo from years ago. At what point is analysis (including the following bullet point), simply sensational reporting?

Hi there! Thanks for this question.

I see it much more simpler: If he is innocent, he should say so. If he is guilty, he should say so. If he can't remember but he thinks there's even a chance he did it, because, say, this was part of a pattern of behavior, he should say that, too. Franken himself has set standards that the accuser should get the benefit of the doubt

McConnell or Bannon?

In terms of having the power? Right now, neither. McConnell can't get Roy Moore to drop out of the race. Bannon hasn't proven he has any serious heft among voters: His guy did win the Alabama Senate primary, but Bannon hopped in at, like, the last minute to boost Moore. He's gunna need a lot more money and support than what he has now if he wants to follow through on his plan to oust nearly every GOP senator up for reelection next year.

Do you think anybody in Congress is serious about changing the way sexual harassment is dealt with in their own world? It's just flat out bizarre what a employee has to go through to report a serious incident. I see no difference between the parties on this one. Just protect their own.

I do think there are lawmakers who are serious about ending this kind of behavior. For leaders, it's a political problem as much as an ethical one: Congress writing its own rules in a way that lets sexual harassers get away with it is a story that feeds right into most Americans' perceptions of Congress.

But will something actually happen? I don't know. I don't sense an overwhelming support for legislation in both chambers to revamp the entire reporting system. And legislation like that requires serious momentum to pass; if there's not enough of that momentum now, when will there be? 

Whataboutism (also known as whataboutery) is a variant of the tu quoque logical fallacy that attempts to discredit an opponent's position by charging them with hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving their argument, which is particularly associated with Soviet and Russian propaganda. #CriticalThinking #LockHerUp

#EndWhatAboutIsm #ItsNotALogicalArgumentForAnything

Turducken (the chicken-duck-turkey main dish often served in place of a Thanksgiving turkey): Bold culinary adventure that breaks the mold of the traditional fare or freakish, meat Frankenstein that has no place anywhere but a B-Horror movie?

Oooh I'm so torn. I love duck. I'd totally eat duck for Thanksgiving over turkey. Let's all be honest: Turkey ain't got no flava. 

But chicken? Meh. I eat that for dinner, like, every night. 

Still, for the sake of how yummy duck is, I have thought it through and am decidedly pro-Turkducken. 

Hi Amber -- thanks for taking questions today. The conventional wisdom seemed to be that, if there were no more incidents, he might survive. What's your take now that another accuser has come forward? My sense is that there are likely more to come, but does he hope to ride it out no matter what?

Thanks for asking questions today! 

I think it's much more difficult for him to survive this second accuser, mostly because it raises the question of whether this was a pattern of behavior for him, and because this alleged incident happened while he was a sitting U.S. senator. The Senate Ethics Committee, which was already planning to investigate Franken, has hesitated in the past to kick out senators for past actions. But current actions are a whole new ball game.

I go into all this in a little more depth here

Why is the WAPO ignoring this story?

We're not ignoring it; we're actively trying to confirm it ourselves. That's hard to do given he's not physically in Congress right this moment. Our Elise Viebeck reports that he denied the Buzzfeed report when the Associated Press knocked on his Detroit home and asked. 

*UPDATE after this chat ended: In a statement to reporters, Conyers took back his denial and reiterated he is a supporter of equality in the workplace. 

Would Trump's environmental policies and actions qualify? They're putting millions of lives at risk. At the very last, wouldn't impeachment proceedings on these grounds launch a much needed national debate on the subject?

Republicans certainly don't see Trump's environmental policies that way, so, no, this wouldn't be grounds for impeachment in a Republican Congress.

That being said, you hit on an important point: Congress can impeach a president for pretty much it deems "high crimes and misdemeanors." There's no rule book that defines what that means. 

Whataboutism incluced the topic of Bill Clinton not being held accountable for his behavior. Don't you think that many whataboutisms do consist of unresolved issues that have not been fully addressed?

I think it's totally fair to have a discussion of Bill Clinton as part of this broader moment of reckoning society is having. But where I think Whataboutism fails is by using what Clinton did to defend Trump or another current politician. 

Any idea what percentage of the men in Congress have these kinds of sexual skeletons in their closet?

Absolutely  no idea, but the problem definitely seems systemic. Rep Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said at a hearing last week that his female chief of staff didn't know a single woman who had avoided some kind of sexual harassment on Capitol Hill. A CNN interview of 50 lawmakers and current/former staff found something similar. 

The problem is that we may never know who the accusers are unless people start naming names. And to name names, many in Congress say the system for reporting these kinds of incidents needs to be totally reformed. 

If Franken actually believes he's innocent and being set up, isn't he handling this properly? Making additional statements at this point will only look worse for him in the court of public opinion.

We shouldn't have to guess if he believes he's innocent. If he believes he's innocent, he should say so. He didn't say that. What I'm trying to get at here is: Just tell the damn truth. How hard is that? 

How will Hope Hicks survive the Muller questioning?

You're right, she and a couple other top White House and campaign aides are getting interviewed by the special counsel soon on what they knew about Russia and/or Trump's firing of James Comey from the FBI.

Since the special counsel operates largely behind closed doors, we won't know what comes out of their questioning until there's a leak. The thinking in the White House is that the special counsel is wrapping up its investigation; other legal experts say they're just getting started. Basically, no one but Mueller and his team know for sure where they're headed or when they'll be done. And depending how much more investigating they have to do, they may not even know! 

Because there's a good chance that none of them are coming out of this unscathed? How bad is it that I just want to stick my head under a pillow because every hour there's another one?

Same, girl. But then I remember that we are living through history right now, in so many ways, and I somehow drag myself out of bed and in to write about the news. 

Chances between now and Jan 1? Gifted and wrapped under the tree?

Lol I'm gunna guess from this question you're not a Trump supporter.

See above -- we just have no idea. 

What are your plans for Thanksgiving?? Mar-a-largo???

Thank goodness I don't have to work/follow the president around. Our fantastic, tireless White House team will likely be in Mar-a-lago. I'll be chillin' in Boston, where you can catch me on CNN around 10 am ET Friday, if you're still nursing your turkey hangover.

How many campaigns do you think are actively looking into the past sexual behaviour of their opposition? Will we have a number of races in which each campaign tries to prove that the opposition's past transgressions are worse than their candidate's? Or will female candidates have a distinct edge because of greater immunity to these charges?

100% of campaigns are actively looking for this, and yes, I'm 100% sure we'll have a "who's worse" campaign somewhere in the nation over the next year.

As for whether women have an edge in this moment of politics, one study finds: Yes. (Though not necessarily because they are less likely to be sexual harassers, but rather they are in some cases more easily perceived as outsiders.) 

I enjoyed your column today on outcome scenarios re the Roy Moore controversy. Could you possibly take on analogous task of writing about end game for the Mueller investigation, specifically focusing on menu of federal criminal statutes that could potentially become basis for prosecution. Thanks

Thanks! That's a good idea


I don't know. Yes, Bezos owns the Washington Post. But I don't follow his day-to-day life, and he doesn't follow ours. 

You guys are something else! It's not just your political reporting. I love your science reporting. The arts stuff. The Weather Gang. Opinion page. Everything. Over the last few years since I began subscribing I have NEVER regretted it. Your team just gets better and better. Thanks.

The Weather Gang is the BEST. 

And the rest of us are pretty good, too. Thanks! :) 

They'll get right on that as soon as they pass comprehensive gun control legislation.

I think erring on the side of Congress doing nothing is always a safe side to be on. 

I enjoyed your column today. Questions about whether the problem is systemic, and what caused it, are the social scientists' questions to study. Immediate answers during the sea change will not be available. But I do think there is a culture change happening, facilitated by a pendulum swing that will undo a lot of the sexual revolution.

I agree, something's changing right now, this very year, this very month, this very week, and this very moment. We just may need another decade or so to figure out exactly what has changed. 

Sometimes when traveling to DC/NYC, I am tempted to reach out to a journalist or author I admire and say "hi, big fan of your work, in your city this weekend, if you have an hour free I'd be thrilled to buy you a coffee or cocktail." But I never do because I'm unsure if that's "cool, someone likes what I do, let's chat" or "urgh, super creepy." Thoughts?

Ugh, that's so sh*tty you have to even have that cross your mind.

I'll say this: I am a woman who has been working in and networking in journalism for more than a decade (in DC and NYC and around the world), and I have never, ever had a problem with a man being inappropriate. You have to do what you're comfortable with, but I am not going to change my networking habits just because of some (or maybe more, who knows) jerks at the top abusing their power. 

After watching his interview, I just have to ask, how long until he runs for office?

Add him to the list of Wannabe Trump challengers!

Charlie Rose seems to be admitting to the accusations of sexual harassment from 8 women. Jim Warren (New York Daily News) says that Rose is finished in TV unless he finds a job at a 3 digit channel. Do you agree?

I sure hope he's done. 

The reaction to Charlie Rose has included a number of reporters who said things like: "this was widely rumored," "I heard about this," "I was warned," etc. Will these reporters now be looking into other powerful people who they have heard these things about?


Investigations are going on right now (I'm not privy to any of them, but I'm sure of it) into powerful people in media and politics. The flood gates have opened. 

I watch the CNN interview last night and it was something. How much would you pay to watch Ball and Trump go at it in front of a live audience? LaVar Ball is either rude, batshit crazy or an expert manipulator. He did his best to talk right over Chris Cuomo. I pity Ball's wife - she must never get to finish a sentence.

So, as The Fix's Callum Borchers wrote, in part because of Ball's brashness, he is the perfect Trump foil. 

There's also a race element. Borchers: "Ball frames his family's business as an effort to break down a system in which athletes — particularly African American athletes — receive only a slice of the proceeds from their talents."

Roy Moore has said he doesn’t know where that restaurant is or was (the one where one of the young girls worked and she says he took her out back.) Yet another article said he was a regular there. It seems other customers should be able to confirm if he was a regular there. If so, it blows a huge hole in his denial.

Yeah, I think there's a lot of ways to corroborate these women's stories. The Post did much of that work -- they went so far as to track down a court case that happened 38 years ago to make sure Roy Moore's main accuser, Leigh Corfman, was at the place she said she was when she met Moore. In terms of litigating sexual impropriety in the press, The Washington Post's Roy Moore stories are as close to proof as you can get. 

Is the Media destroying this country?


Hi, Amber: So, liberals cheered when efforts to repeal the ACA collapsed and will cheer again if tax reform dies in the Senate. My question is: won't this all start up again in January and they'll be another whole year of this before the midterms?

Hi! Yes, Congress will spend the next year fighting over tax reform and possibly health care. But, as Republican leaders know, they are up against the Election Clock: The closer it gets to November 2018, the more difficult it is to get members to take politically risky votes, and thus the more difficult it is to do risky stuff, like reform the tax code or health insurance markets.

Will the Senate pass a "yuge" Tax CUT for the rich (donor class)?

As The Fix's Aaron Blake notes, a nonpartisan analysis just found that over the next decade, under the Senate bill, 50% of Americans' taxes could rise, while corporations and some of the wealthy get to keep their tax cuts. As your question gets at, it's definitely a political problem. 

Who do you think will be the most in demand campaign surrogate for democratic candidates for House and Senate seats in 2018? It was Obama in 2006 and that clearly foreshadowed his successful run in 2008.

That's a good question. Bernie Sanders. The Democratic Party seems to be leaning left after 2016. 

Hi Amber, I recall at the end of October there were a flurry of op ed's calling on Trump to enforce the sanctions Congress passed against Russia. My google search didn't turn up any news articles more recent than the end of October, all of which indicated the time for enforcement to begin had passed and the administration was showing no signs of enforcing them. Are they being enforced, and, if not, why isn't it getting more coverage?

Hi! Good question. It looks like Congress is giving the White House time to start implementing them, but you're right, the White House did blow past their deadline.

If the White House doesn't start enforcing these sanctions, Congress could (and seems willing to) take more action to pressure them. For more, read one of our foreign policy columnists, Josh Rogin. 

What is next? Will the hear from people when they go home for the Thanksgiving break?

Ya, they're already home for the week (#Congress). They definitely will hear from people, and polls show that, broadly, the tax plan is more unpopular than unpopular. They'd like to vote on it before Christmas, but they also have to keep the government open and raise the debt ceiling. I list out the next steps here

*UPDATE after the chat ended: A reader pointed out I said "unpopular" twice in this answer. I meant: The bill is more unpopular than it is popular right now. 

I suppose this question might fall into the category of the judgment of historians. But which do you think is more likely: (a) this is the moment when we returned to a pre-Watergate era of ethics, where everyone is corrupt in mild ways and it doesn't cost them politically as long as they vote for Our Side; or (b) this is the moment when sexual misconduct was used as a part of a systematic effort to undermine republican democracy?

Can I add a third, more hopeful possibility? (c) this is the moment when people in power realize there are consequences to abusing that power, for sex or money or otherwise, because they are starting to be held accountable, and such incidents drastically drop. 

Seems like I heard something in passing on the radio. So if this keeps happening, and I expect it will, on both sides of the aisle, won't that change everything? As long as it is just a few, the many will condemn. Some will call find ways to single out the actions of the other party's accused, and ask for their resignation. But if 10 or 20% of sitting federal legislators get accused, can anyone really call for anyone else's resignation. Will there be 10% or 20%? I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me.

Yes, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the longest-serving member in the House, has been accused by some of his staff. He denied the accusations in a brief interview with the AP today. Some of his allies are encouraging an ethics investigation. 

I honestly don't know what's going to happen next, nor how many people will be implicated, nor how many people will lose their positions of power because of it. The only thing I'm pretty sure of is: We're not done yet naming names.

Talk about biting the hand that fed you! Do you think she has Presidential Ambitions?

Yeah, agreed, it was a risky move. And, yes, I do think she has presidential ambitions, which makes it even more risky. Or gets her out ahead of the pack, depending on how this moment we're in all plays out. 

It was actually a former Post food blogger (Kim O'Donnell of A Mighty Appetite). I was due to be in Seattle and reached out to her. We had dinner at a restaurant and had a great time. It is possible to do such things without there being a problem. Just don't be a creep.

Yay glad that went well! 

And, I agree. It's not hard to not sexually harass people. Just don't do it! 

With the DOJ now reviewing the merger under the anti-trust law, is it a new case of Trump's abuse of power if they try to force AT&T to sell CNN? Is Congress going to look into it?

As The Post's James Hohmann wrote in his Daily 202 newsletter today, it definitely looks suspicious. Good question on what authority Congress has to look into this ... 

With all these men being accused of sexual assault, have you investigated the possibility that women as well have committed the same ? Has a woman used her position to provide or obtain sexual pleasures in order to blackmail a man to receive a promotion. Or don't women grope, touch or act sexually aggressive?

So The Fix's Eugene Scott wrote a post recently underscoring part of your point. Basically: Don't forget about the men that have been sexually harassed. 

But most of men's accusers are themselves men. 

It previously appeared to have the purpose of making endless delays of allegations until the suspect a) Left office or b) died of natural causes. If they go all the way with investigating Sen. Franken, can they really make a fair inquiry and verdict?

Yeah, I think so. They are split, 3 Republicans, 3 Democrats. 

Can Martha McSally beat Kelli Ward, and if so does that make it more likely the seat stays Republican?

Yes, I think so, and yes, almost certainly so. 

You just posted "the tax plan is more unpopular than unpopular." I blame this on autocorrect. What did you mean to type?

Oh goodness, thanks! I mean: "More unpopular than popular."  recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 59 percent of Americans think the GOP's tax plan would favor the rich at the expense of the middle class.

McCain objected to the healthcare vote in part because they didn't follow regular order, hold hearing, etc. The tax plan seems like it's being rushed through pretty much like the healthcare bill. Will McCain vote no or object on principal this time?

You're smart to focus on regular order.

McCain hasn't said yes, he supports the tax plan. That's gotta be giving Republican leaders a stomachache. 

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. See y'all next week! 

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.
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