Q&A: Ask Amber from The Fix

Feb 13, 2018

If it's lunchtime Tuesday, it's Fix politics time. Callum Borchers is filling in for Amber Phillips this week. What do you want to know?

After reading Dana Milbank’s column on the border agent’s death and the utility of falsehood I’m left wondering that from the secret society to the claims in the Nunes memo is the whole idea by Trump/GOP to get a narrative out to supporters knowing it doesn’t matter if it is true, just that it sounds true to them? And once the story is out it won’t be corrected in people’s minds? Do they (Trump/Johnson) believe what they are saying or just cynical in that the ends justify the means.

Here's the Milbank column, for anyone who missed it.

Setting the narrative -- and being first to do so -- is clearly a strategy that Trump and Republicans use to great effect. The Nunes memo is a great example. Think of how they generated hype for more than a week and then, as I wrote at the time, dumped the actual document on the Friday before the Super Bowl

The memo itself didn't really live up to its billing. But, from a strategic communications perspective, I'm not sure that mattered much. By the time of release, the idea that it showed a deep-state conspiracy against Trump was well-established.

Why do you think Susan Rice emailed herself in January 2016 about a meeting she'd attended with Obama and Comey?

It's hard to think of a reason besides wanting to memorialize the idea that the Russia investigation was conducted "by the book," as she put it. Her email doesn't prove that it was or wasn't, but it seems she wanted to put that contention on the record.

The Post wrote about DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz being able to find 5 months worth of emails between FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page just days after the FBI said they were lost. Don't the optics of this alone cause mistrust of the FBI?

That's certainly one view -- and a perfectly understandable one. Another view, however, is that the episode indicates the Justice Department's internal controls actually work. If there were a cover-up attempt at the FBI, which is part of the Justice Department, then it appears not to have been widespread because it was the Justice Department's own inspector general that found the missing texts.

Callum: Do you honestly think the White House is deliberately trying to at least defend, if not cover up, Mr. Porter's alleged deeds? Do they not have an ounce of humanity or respect for those women who allege domestic violence with evidence by their former husband? It boggles my mind.

The White House isn't defending Porter's alleged abuse per se; it is casting doubt on whether the allegations are true. What's striking about the White House argument is the implication that women need photographic evidence to be believed -- and even that might not be enough. Trump, in particular, seems to give more weight to a man's denial than to multiple women's accusations.

We constantly hear that the president is doing/saying something to energize the base. Do they need constant stimulation? Why? Will this approach run the risk of seeing the base lose interest by the November elections? Thanks for standing in for Amber.

"Constant stimulation" is a good way to put it. Behind Trump's "fake news" attacks is a worry that steady, unflattering coverage will slowly erode his base. He needs to give supporters regular reminders of the reasons they voted for him and the promises he is fulfilling. Sometimes that means a provocative remark that is reminiscent of a freewheeling stump speech; other times it means tweeting a list of accomplishments.

Hi Callum -- thanks for sitting in today and taking questions. The current buzz seems to be that the Democrats' prospects for taking the House in November have dimmed somewhat because of tax reform. What's your take on that? Is the benefit of the tax legislation (or the impression that there are benefits) likely to "trump" (as it were) voters' disapproval of this chaotic presidency?

The Cook Political Report recently upped the Democrats' odds of taking the House, so views of the party's prospects are mixed.

But the idea that the tax bill could hurt Democrats in November is a valid one. The bill was unpopular before passage, but remember that it was frontloaded. While the Tax Policy Center projected that a slight majority of Americans will wind up paying more in taxes by 2027, it also projected that an overwhelming majority will enjoy savings this year. 

If voters see short-term savings and credit Republicans, then the bill could be a boost for the GOP in the fall.


Has anyone asked Reince Priebus what he knew about Rob Porter, since he was the first COS? Why are there all these Human Resources 101 fails in the WH? And the Communications Office is doing a terrible job of handling this (ahem, Hope Hicks).

Priebus has been asked. "I was as surprised as anyone when that Daily Mail article came out," he told MSNBC. 

But expect Priebus to face additional questions. Just before our live chat began, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that "the FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March" to the White House. Priebus was still chief of staff last March.

So do we see mass deportations on March 5?

The short answer is no. March 5, for anyone wondering, is the DACA expiration date.

Take a look at what Thomas Homan, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in a recent interview on NPR. He made clear that law-abiding DACA recipients whose protections have lapsed are technically eligible for deportation but are not a priority for the agency.

Based on a recent poll, should the Republicans be worried about TN in the fall?

The poll in question was an internal survey commissioned by a Tennessee business group, so it is hard to know whether it is a strong indicator that Marsha Blackburn is in trouble. But some Republicans are worried enough that, according to Politico, they are urging Bob Corker to reconsider his plan to retire. If Corker were to get back in the race, the Republican primary would suddenly become competitive. Then the question would be whether he is saving the party or dividing it in a way that further opens the door to Democrats.

Thanks for the thoughtful questions, everyone. Reminder: There will be no live chat next week, but Amber will return on Feb. 27.

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Callum Borchers
Callum Borchers joined The Washington Post in 2015 from the Boston Globe, where his beats included national politics, technology and the business of sports. He is a former editor of Citizen's News in Naugatuck, Conn.
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