Q&A: Ask Amber from The Fix

Jan 16, 2018

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

What's the meaning of "shithole" vs. "shithouse"? What's the meaning of politics? Of life? Of the universe? Welcome to The Fix's 12 Tuesday live chat. I'm apparently in an existential mood. You have questions, I'll try to have the answers. Let's start!

So, when do you start updating your "likeliness of a shutdown" articles on a daily basis? Or hourly?

At this point, it should probably be every second, since ti changes so much. Working on an update for later today, so stay tuned. (Early indications are that the likelihood of a shutdown has gone up to "it could happen")

Hey Amber, There seems to be some talk about whether the Democrats should force a shutdown if they can't get an immigration bill passed. I have a hard time seeing the downside of them holding their ground. Are there many voters who are or lean Democrat who would withhold their support because the Dems took the side of the Dreamers? Also, the GOP forced the shutdown in 2013 in an attempt to defund the ACA, and they won control of the Senate in 2014. So it either helped them win the majority or at least didn't prevent them from getting it.


This question is likely being debated in 48 Senate offices right now. If Democrats say there needs to be protections for dreamers in a spending bill, they'll certainly win points with their base, which is already frustrated Democrats didn't protect dreamers in December's spending negotiations. But would they get blamed for a shutdown for putting conditions on a spending bill? Or would the blame fall to Republicans, who control all of Washington? You're right that when the roles were reversed in 2013, Republicans got blamed in public polling but then did well in the next midterms. (I think that had less to do with the shutdown and more to do with President Obama being in office.)  Still, my (too-lengthy) point is: There's no definitive answer on who will get blamed for a shutdown, which makes it risky for either party to draw a strong line. 

probably being a Chinese spy was by far the most interesting news of the weekend. Practically lost in the clamor.

Yes, this is a craaazy story. (Read it here for those who have a WSJ subscription.) Basically, the Trump administration was already under scrutiny for its connections to Russia and whether the Russians could be using them. Now, Jared and Ivanka Kushner were warned their good friend, Wendi Deng Murdoch, could have been using them to get intel for China.  

I'm not sure this falls into your area, but just what are the Virginia Republicans thinking? 51-49 majorities and they're going to block everything Democrats suggest? Should I be licking my chops for 2019?

So, statehouse coverage is something I like to write about, but I don't get to follow the ins and outs as closely as I'd like. On Virginia, I think you bring up a fair argument: Democrats nearly took back the House, which was totally unexpected, and at least on some major issues like gun control, Republicans don't seem willing to compromise. Virginia's always been a bare-knuckled state for politics and policy making, but this election seems to have escalated tensions.

Past presidents have engaged in service activities to honor the holiday. Barack Obama, for example, was joined by his wife and aides at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington during the 2015 holiday. George W. Bush visited the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library to mark the day in 2008. Why didn't the President respond to the false Nuclear Alert while Golfing? Was he afraid if he reassured the nation, he would get the blame for the mistake? #Leadership101

Yeah, A LOT  happened this weekend, and as far as Trump's public outings and words, it was mostly on the golf course and on Twitter. 

What do you think the probability that some reference to Trump's apparent language regarding African countries will appear in a federal court decision?---it really is the gift that keeps on giving!

His tweets are certainly fixtures in various legal challenges to his administration's policies. 

is there a difference between ****hole and ****house? How about ****faced?

For the purposes of :Did the president of the United States denigrate entire countries, countries that tend to be poorer and have people with darker skin, no, there's no difference. Which raises serious questions about the credibility of the senators who defended Trump by trying to deny he said the one when they really heard the other.

If Fire and Fury is right about Trump not expecting to win the Presidency, could his post-election behaviour be interpreted as an attempt to get out of office without actually resigning (quitting)?

I see where you're going with this, but I also think it's a stretch. Trump seemed to enjoy campaigning, even if he didn't think he would win, and there are parallel aspects to the presidency he seems to like, too. Bottom line: I get the sense that now that he's president, he wants to stay president.

How seriously should we take Joe Arpaio's run for Senate from Arizona? Does he really think he will get the GOP nomination, given that he continues to peddle the Obama birther conspiracy theory? Is he trying to become Arizona's Roy Moore?

I'm not privy to Joe Arpaio's specific strategy, but it won't surprise you to hear Republican advisers for other GOP candidates in the race have some thoughts: "This is purely a vanity exercise," one said to me. Basically, Republicans aren't taking this seriously, and it's very hard to see how a guy who got kicked out of office by voters and convicted for not following the law can win a GOP primary, let alone statewide in a state that went for Donald Trump by just by 3 points. 

His approval ratings would jump ___% overnight?

a statistically sizable amount. 

You're absolutely right that his Twitter account has gotten him in trouble with judges deciding whether key policies live or die, with Republicans he needs to work with in Congress and turned off the American people. Polls show a majority want him to stop tweeting as much. 

Right now, where do you put the odds?

50/50. it's just as likely to happen as it isn't. The only reason it's not higher, for me, is because if Democrats revolt over dreamer protections, I have a hard time seeing Republicans voting against a short-term bill that extends this fight to next month. It would mean a shutdown on their watch. 

Trump could jack those odds up to, like, 70%, if he refuses to sign a bill that doesn't have his wall funding, or that does protect dreamers. 

Since he's in the House Intelligence Committee now.

Good question. I'd ask whether he had any indication members of the Trump campaign were in connection with Russia.

I'd ask why he thinks members of Trump's inner circle are guilty of money laundering (which he told Michael Wolff in "Fire and Fury.") 


And I'd ask what he knew about why the president decided to fire FBI director James Comey, since Bannon was Trump's chief political strategist then, and Bannon later called it the "biggest mistake in modern political history." 

What would she know about the Campaign? Was she around during DTJR's meeting with the Russians?

She was. But the special counsel is likely more interested in what she knew after Trump became president: We've reported she and Sean Spicer were involved in internal discussions about how to respond to press reports revealing DJTJ's Trump Tower meeting with the Russians. And she was also in Trump's inner circle when he fired Comey. 

For this weeks episode of President Trump? He seems to be around, a lot!

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. And also, work really, really hard to impress 'em. 

If you got that on your phone, what would you do in the next 15 minutes?

Open the nicest bottle of champagne I have and tell my cat I love her. 

I think he would rather have an adoring 33% than 71% or some other larger number that think he is competent and doing a decent job. There is no way around it—the next two and a half years will be chaotic.

I'm not inside the president's head, but without fail, nearly every decision he's made in the first year of his presidency has been something his base approves of, while the rest of the country doesn't necessarily. (advocating for the wall, getting out of the Paris climate change agreement, denying climate change)

Who has more to fear from a shutdown? Or perhaps more importantly, which party thinks that they have more to lose from a shutdown?

I think Republicans have more to fear, for the simple fact they are in control of Washington right now. Plus, they risk shutting down the government a month after passing a major tax plan, and stepping all over that success. 

Amber, During the campaign Trump made a big deal about having Mexico pay for the wall. Why don't Democratic leaders make more of that? I don't understand why they don't say something like "why should the wall be in the budget, when you promised that Mexico would pay for it".

That's a good question. You're right that Democrats are proposing a deal that would give some money for a couple dozen miles of border wall. I think they've decided to -- gasp -- compromise, because they're on board with more money for border security and it's not like a wall is going to cover all 2,000 miles of border between the US and Mexico. The thinking is their base will be pleased to get DACA protections a couple dozen miles of border wall won't matter.

Well written article. A couple of thoughts . . . First of all, re. “… what choice do Republicans have ... he’s the only one …?” Not so; next up is Pence, who is pure GOP old school. But mainly I ask, why do Congressional Republicans continue to thwart investigations and try to withhold key testimony made behind closed doors? It makes no sense to me. Hard solid evidence of the sort needed to impeach and convict the president of failing to uphold his oath of office would be the solution to their dilemma. If such evidence were to be discovered and made public, those elected members of Congress would be constitutionally obliged to uphold the law and do the right thing, in an honorable and justifiable way. So why try to impede Mueller and the committees in their investigations? Anything that might be discovered is yet another potential justification to act. So I don’t understand why they continue to play defense. Just taking a rest and letting the process play out might be their best way out of this mess. Could you write about that? Richard Rickard

I think if Trump gets impeached (and let me be clear we're entering hypothetical land just writing that sentence), Pence would have a hard time staying on, for the simple question of : What did he know about whatever caused Trump's impeachment? 

Plus, impeachment is a HUGE distraction for Republicans, who would rather spend this year trying to do welfare reform and shore up their base (who still largely likes Trump, mind you) to protect their majorities in Congress.  

Can they be filibustered? Would the Democrats do it, or just let it pass with Republican votes?

They can be filibustered, and I'm not sure if Democrats would do it. Depends how strongly they feel about getting DACA protections NOW

Larry Sabato says those who predict a Democratic tsunami in 2018 are premature and should remember the lesson of 2016. Do you think he's correct?

Yup, I think predicting any kind of political result is risky, especially in this new world we live in where the rules seem turned upside down. But you can still point to evidence that suggests a certain party is going to do well in upcoming elections, which is what I did here and House Democrats.

Does the authority of the Commander in Chief include the right to fictionalize medical statements and attribute the fraud to the physician who conducted the president’s physical exam? Since that doctor is an armed service employee, is that why the president can use that physician’s name for fraud by wire?

He does not have ability to fabricate his physical exam, but he can pick and choose what information gets released. It's likely Trump will release something -- as soon as today.  These are voluntary to begin with, so the president appeared to have a political reason to go get a physical exam done. 

Assuming there is a shutdown, how does it get resolved? Positions seem to be hardening rather quickly.

If the president vetoes a spending bill for whatever reason, it's possible he blinks after a few days. If it lasts longer than that, or if the problem stems from Congress, I don't know how this gets resolved, nor for how long it would go. I think you're absolutely right that, by the minute, there is less and less room for nuance and compromise. 

I was wondering since Rep. Devon Nunes recused himself from Russia investigations, if he's in the room where they are questioning Steve Bannon now?

I'm not sure if he's in the room now, but I do know he sorta rescinded his recusal a few months after he issued it. So, the lines are really blurry on what Nunes is in charge of regarding the House committee's investigations into Russia.

I mean, seriously? Is this something that their colleagues will easily forget and let pass, or will they have a hard time earning trust in the future?

I'm not so sure it's the end of their working relationships in Congress as we know it. Several lawmakers (see: Devin Nunes in the House) have fallen on their swords to defend Trump. 

Republicans realize they're impeding the military with these right? Kind of goes against Trump's tweets about the Democrats being the ones who don't want to fund the military.

That's exactly right. Talk to any number of House Republican military hawks, and they'll tell you they are extremely upset over the idea of passing another short-term spending bill, which doesn't give the military and kind of ability to budget and plan for next year, let alone a shut down. 

Doesn't RUBIN blow Nielsen, Cotton, and the POTUS out of the damn water? "Honorable men would resign after such a remarkable revelation of their crummy character; neither Cotton nor Perdue will. We still await the appearance of a single staffer of either who would quit in protest." https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2018/01/16/sens-cotton-and-perdue-are-outed-for-lying-on-trumps-behalf

I think her testimony today corroborates what The Washington Post's Josh Dawsey reported over the weekend: that some people in the meeting heard a different vulgarity, and that gives Trump's defenders (Cotton, Perdue, Nielsen) plausible deniability to say "oh he didn't say that". She did not deny that Trump said vulgarities. 

Busy day, back to the news. Thanks for chatting everyone! 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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