Q&A: Ask Amber from The Fix

Jan 23, 2018

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

The government is back open. ... For now.  Thanks for joining me for a Tuesday lunchtime chat (at least, it's lunchtime here in Washington.) What are you curious about in the world of politics?

Why is the conventional wisdom that "Democrats lost the shutdown battle"? Okay, they blinked first. But they got a 6 year extension on CHIP and didn't give up their ability to shutdown again in 3 weeks. And of course, it needs to be said again (and again, and again) that the only reason this is even happening is that Republicans are refusing to do things that everyone including them wants to do!

Good question.

Re CHIP, Democrats were saying even before the shutdown that it was Republicans' responsibility to refund CHIP. It's not just a Democratic priority. So they didn't see CHIP as a concession from the right to the left.

And, if you take your second line of reasoning, that the shutdown only happened to force a deal on DACA, well, where is that deal? 

There are two sides to every, well, side. But the above is the conventional wisdom of why Democrats lost the shutdown battle.

procedural fairness from Mitch McConnell? After making up a rule that presidents don't get to nominate Supreme Court Justices in the last year of their presidency? Will he feel an obligation to stick to the spirit of this deal, or just the bare bones technicality or not all?

This is also a good question! (Y'all are on fire today.)

There is concern among Senate Democrats that exactly what you just described will happen: McConnell will find a way to kinda allow a vote on a DACA deal, without really practically allowing a vote. Those same Democrats point to the fact McConnell has made promises before -- to members of his own party, particularly Sen. Susan Collins about shoring up Obamacare -- and failed so far to live up to them. 

So Scalise says the House doesn't have to take up anything the Senate votes on...so now do we get a shutdown on Feb 8? And do we see the DACA people getting deported on March 5? I don't see anything else happening

A shutdown is still a possibility for those reasons: Reopening the government didn't change anything about Congress's long-term budget disagreements (budget caps, disaster aid, the deficit increases), and lawmakers are no closer to a deal on immigration than they were before the shutdown.

Plus, immigration deals that have passed the Senate have fizzled in the House, as recently as 2013. So, yes, it's very plausible DACA recipients could lose their protections (and at least face the choice of deportation vs. going into hiding) by March, AND that Congress could have another shutdown. 

Hey Amber, Now that the shutdown is over, the predictable voices have mocked the Democrats for "caving" on the issue. Don't the Dems still have the moral high ground on the issue? Maybe they should just step aside and let the GOP protect the Dreamers if they want, and deport them if they want? Let's see how popular that is in the long term.

I don't know that Democrats have the moral high ground right now, given a number of Republicans could argue they support protecting dreamers (though they seem far less likely to shut down the government over it). 

But, as Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told my colleagues, Democrats do think Republicans are now under pressure to work with them to find a compromise: "What, are they going to start with members of the military? Are they going to deport them? Are they going to start with the teachers?"

There's another vote before Feb. 8, right? Won't we be facing the same situation then, with a wiser Democrat party?

Unless there's a deal on DACA that a majority of Congress, including GOP congressional leaders, and Trump unequivocally supports, yup, we could be deja-vu-ing this weekend's shutdown. Unless by "wiser," you mean Democrats won't vote against a spending bill over dreamers.

I've been asking this question to the FIX for about three weeks, no answers so far! http://www.trumptwitterarchive.com/archive

1. If you've been asking it to me, I simply missed it! I do get more questions than I can answer sometimes.

2. I don't know why Trump didn't tweet about the mudslides. His Twitter account definitely tends to focus on the latest political fight of the day, or he'll tweet about crises and incidents that fit his political agenda. 

Most of the coverage I've seen says that the Democrats "caved", "failed", "lost", etc over the shutdown. I don't see why that is. They've taken CHIP off the table and if they don't get an immigration deal in three weeks the government shuts down again. How are they worse off?

Scroll up a bit for my answer on why this is a loss for Democrats.

To answer your specific question about how they are worse off: Democrats voted against a spending bill that shut dwon the government, saying they wanted a concrete deal on protecting dreamers. Their base was excited! Way to take a stand, Chuck Schumer and team!
Three days later, they voted for a spending bill reopening the government without a concrete deal to protect dreamers. Now, they're taking heat from the right and the left. Their base is extremely frustrated; they're the ones arguing Democrats caved.

I see lots of stories that Mitch McConnell has promised a vote on DACA. What about Paul Ryan and the House? If Ryan doesn't go along, what's the outlook for any deals by Feb. 8?

McConnell said it's his "intention" to hold a vote on DACA which is not a promise.

And you're absolutely right, there is no promise or even tacit agreement for Republicans in the House to take a vote. House Speaker Paul Ryan had promised his party he would only allow a vote on an immigration deal that had majority support from his caucus, and it's not clear there is one yet. So, if Ryan won't let a DACA deal come up for a vote, then the outlook for one is very, very poor.

Every report describes a bi-partisan group of Senators, but how do they know that whatever they agree to will pass the House? Why not include some House leadership in the negotiations? Will this be another 2013 when the Senate bill went to the House to die, just as many House bills today die in the Senate?

It's quite possible that any DACA deal that passes the Senate (if there is one that passes the Senate) goes the way of the 2013 immigration bill, which never saw  the light of day in the House. 

What's the chance yesterday's PA Supreme Court ruling and the recent NC case moving in the US Supreme Court start to alter the game on gerrymandering? And what impact - if any - do they have on 2018 elections?

The chances are high that both sides might not be able to draw lines that so blatantly favor voters from their party. As Rick Pildes, a NYU redistricting expert, told me yesterday: "The dam is breaking on partisan gerrymandering." And yes, it is both sides that do it: The Supreme Court is also hearing a case soon about Maryland congressional districts being gerrymandered to favor Democrats. 

How -- if at all -- will the recent PA. Supreme Court decision on gerrymandering affect the Keystone State's 18th special Congressional election March 13 (to replace Tim Murphy)?

Good question. The special election (read more about its political significance here) will go on as planned. 

Hi Amber -- thanks for taking questions today. Democrats, and Schumer in particular, are taking some heat for "caving" in the shutdown resolution. My sense as a casual political observer was that they made the calculation that it was probably best to get out now, deal with the backlash in the short term, and hope that all is forgotten come the mid-terms. What's your take on that? There seems (seemed?) to be some genuine energy on the left to stick it to Trump in November, but has that been dulled somewhat by this turn of events? In other words, will progressives stay home which could be a big problem for hopes to take back at least the House?

Yeah, because this shutdown was so short, I'm not sure it will have a lasting impact on voters' perceptions of the party. Except, as you point out, there's a danger that the base will be frustrated with their party for not taking a tougher stand on immigration. 

Did Mitch McConnell vote AGAINST the government funding bill on Friday? Why aren't Democrats screaming about the highest ranking Republican in the Senate not supporting his own bill?

This is a tricky procedural thing that always messes everyone but the most seasoned congressional experts up. As majority leader, McConnell had to vote against the bill so that he could bring it up again for a vote later. So majority leaders always wait to vote until they know the outcome of the bill. 

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 Koch Bros. style. 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?

1. I think if Trump gets impeached, Pence is not a guarantee to stay in office, either.
2. It's a question worth asking whether some congressional Republicans are trying to protect Trump from the Russia investigation by discrediting it, if that's your question.  

Last Week Q: My Question 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? A: Amber Phillips 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. Then, Last Tuesday The Navy Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson MD lied. For example, Trump’s LDL with a Rx of 10 MG of Crestor is 143. That is bad. Trump is not 6' 3," possibly 6'2 when he was younger as it says on his driver’s license. Trump weighs more than 239 pounds. If Trump is still 6'2" and 239 pounds, then his B.M.I. is over 30, which is "obese". It seems the doctor used 6'3" and 239 lbs because that B.M.I. is 29.9, which is just under the threshold of obese and categorized as "overweight." Ronny lied. This Week Q: Same question as last week: president’s physical exam

As The Fix's Aaron Blake pointed out here, there's no evidence Trump's doctor lied for his physical exam. He even acknowledged he wants Trump to lose some weight!

So I am a democrat and I guess I would be considered the "base", whoever I do not think there is EVER a good reason to shut down govt regardless of party desires. The Debt? Nope. Immigration? Nope. ACA? Nope. The govt should always be open and we look ridiculous going through this mess every time a new fiscal year begins. Do the budget straight up and stop messing around. I say this to both sides.

Sounds like, after a few days, Senate Democrats heard ya loud and clear.

I was traveling last week and read bits of the unfolding payoff story. I wondered about two things - how was this not reported at the time since so many different reporters were interviewing her??? Also, wasn't this payoff made at the same time that Trump invited every woman the right wing has attached to Bill Clinton to attend his debate with Hillary Clinton??? As with most things Trump - this really smells . . . and looks like a got a break from the press

I can answer the first part of your question: Well, kinda.  It looks like InTouch Magazine had an interview with Daniels since 2011 but never published it until now. The Washington Post's media reporter Paul Farhi asks why that is -- without getting any good answers.  "I’ve only been here since November. I can’t speak to decisions that were made before then," said InTouch's editorial director.

Stephen Miller seems to be on the ascendancy. Does he become the next Bannon? Will Trump's ego allow someone else to take the spotlight?

I think there's a difference between being in the news, as you're absolutely right Stephen Miller is right now for being one of Trump's whisperers on immigration, and taking the spotlight, Anthony Scaramucci style. 

I don't know how Democrats thought that the DACA situation was going to go well for them. It polls well in a generic sense. Do you want to deport people who were brought here as kids? No. How much do you care? Really-not much. Would you be willing to lose money on the issue? Hell no. Is the polling not in depth enough or are they too wrapped in a bubble to look beyond their own noses? People can say anything to a pollster. How they vote and what they vote on are entirely different matters. Is this news?

I think in some states, like California, voting against a spending bill to get dreamer protections polls exceptionally well. In other states, like West Virginia and Missouri and Indiana, where Democrats are trying to defend incumbents this November, it does not poll well. And any path back to the majority this November goes through those Trump states, so the concerns of Joe Manchin and Claire McCaskill likely weighed heavily on Senate Democratic leaders when deciding what to do.

Running or not against Bill Nelson?

It's interesting he hasn't gotten in yet. Trump has long urged him to run, and both sides say Scott would be a formidable opponent, largely because he has the $$ and name recognition to be competitive in such an expensive states. 

I'm a Democrat, and I both understand why the shutdown occurred and I am understanding of why it ended. What I don't understand is why so many opinion leaders said it was an almost sure thing that Republicans would be blamed. I never thought that, and in fact Democrats couldn't have have maintained it very long given their very understandable concerns about the country without a government (I don't think Republicans care). Why did so many keep repeating that it would be a benefit to the Democrats if they stood strong and shut down the government? (Many media guilty of this).

Because Republicans control all levers of power in Washington, and this was the first shutdown where federal employees were furloughed under one party. 

I’m in Florida on vacation. I haven’t heard anything from anyway down here about the shutdown except for the occasional sarcastic comment such as “how could we tell?” I think that such a short-term shutdown is only really “visible” among partisan politicos — it’s very “inside the Beltway.” Actually, it’s nice to have a view of Washington from outside. You get a more realistic perspective on things.

I haven't seen polling yet post-shutdown, but that sounds about right. It was an earthquake event here in Washington, but the Trump administration was smart to try to keep the effects of it to a minimum outside of DC.

What questions do you think Mr. Mueller's team had for the few hours they allegedly spoke with AG Sessions?

Oh to be inside that room. I don't know, obviously, what was said, but I can make an educated guess what Mueller was interested in:
1. Sessions's campaign and transition meetings with the Russian ambassador. Were they political in nature at all, as Sessions has denied?
2. Whether he knew anything about that Trump Tower meeting with Russians about dirt on Hillary Clinton
3. What he knows about Trump's decision to fire Comey. Remember, Trump is under investigation for obstruction of justice. 

Which of the Super Bowl or State of the Union will have more interest and affect on politics in general? BTW, rooting for the Eagles or the Patriots?

Go Pats! A Pats win will force everyone in Washington get along, right? Right? .... ?

I think she may have been in on the joke. And yes I am that jaded.

That is a conspiracy theory if I've ever heard one! 

So, who wins in Nov 18? 6 months ago I thought maybe the Dems could take the Senate but no way they'd capture the house, then Virginia happened and it seemed the GOP stepped in poop every chance they had, then Monday's total capitulation happened - Now I am back to thinking maybe the Senate (and that remains a big maybe) but, where I once was confident of a Dem overthrow (See Virginia Happened, combined with Alabama (Alabama?!) now, not so much. So what say you, and what possible positives are there from Schumer's Folly? I just see no good coming from that!

I don't know how the shutdown politics impacts this, but before the shutdown, I wrote that House Dems' path to the majority just keeps looking better. Same with Senate Democrats. But nothing is guaranteed, and especially in the Senate, it's an uphill battle. 

Catherine Rampell wrote a piece this morning about the failure of GOP House and Senate leadership to pass a timely budget for the current year. I want to ask you: what happened to the subcommittee chairs -- the so-called "Cardinals" of the Appropriations Committees. Do these members have any power at all any more? I don't think this is a naive question: did any of the subcommittees pass an appropriations bill on a timeline that would allow the full committee, and then their House of Congress, and then a Conference Committee to pass it before October 1, 2017? Does it even matter who chairs the subcommittees any more, or are all the decisions on appropriations made by the House Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader?

Committees are definitely less and less powerful as partisanship rises. These high-profile political battles force the decisions to be made at the top, by congressional leaders, rather than letting things go through the regular process: subcomittee to committee to floor. 

Menendez being re-tried. Do Democrats stick with him through the retrial? Primary challenge? Also, Senator Springsteen? Hope springs eternal.

Re Democrats' bond with Menendez, if he's found guilty, they probably don't. And, Sen. Springsteen? That would be a runaway American dream

Is it pretty much assumed that Dean Heller is a dead man walking this November?

No. Incumbency is powerful, and Heller has proven he can win very tough races (See his 2012 reelection). But he is definitely one of the most vulnerable GOP incumbents, as well as the most vulnerable Senator up for reelection in November. Nevada went for Hillary Clinton and Democratic up and down the ballot in November. 

Actually, I think that chatter has hit on something important: this Super Bowl includes two teams that inspire strong dislike across the country, so it is a reflection of our current political situation.

Can't argue with that. 

1. Have you found a decent breakfast burrito? 2. What movies from the "Best Picture" nominations do you recommend (or want to see)?

1. No, uuugh
2. What's the "Oscars"? (said a political journalist who hasn't eaten lunch away from her computer in two years.)

The Post has written about the FBI's Peter Strzok. Sessions is going to be looking into why there are 5 months worth of missing texts between Strzok and Lisa Page. Isn't this a troubling pattern.....missing texts and emails re Strzok/Page, Lois Lerner, Hillary Clinton?

Well, we don't know what happened to the texts. The Justice Department told Congress it was a malfunction of the phone. But the missing texts have raised enough suspicion that the Justice's inspector general is looking into it, which is noteworthy -- and hands conservatives another data point to make their case that the FBI under James Comey was politically tilted toward Dems. 

Thanks for a great chat! Ending a few minutes early because I forgot to eat lunch beforehand and now I'm starving. See y'all next Tuesday. 

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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