Q&A: Ask Amber from The Fix

Apr 24, 2018

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

Sorry I'm a few minutes late. Just published a story about Ronny Jackson and the trouble he's having getting confirmed by the Senate for a job that should be a slam dunk. Also, France is in town! Thanks for joining me today. What do you want to know? 

So what is the difference between a state visit and a visit from President/leader of a country (e.g. when May, Merkel, and Abe have visited Trump)? Is it just the state dinner and the other pomp and circumstance?

Yup, that's my understanding. It's a way to differentiate your friends from your BFFs in diplomacy -- or perhaps more accurately, people you *wish* were your BFFs. This is Trump's first time hosting a state visit in his presidency, which is a little later than most presidents. So far they seem to be getting along well, but I'm not sure how much substance will come out of it. They are diametrically opposed on whether to stay in or get out of major global deals, from the Iran nuclear deal, Syria, trade deals or the Paris climate accord. 

Nick Confessore of the NYT has been addressing criticism of the paper's coverage of the hacked DNC/Clinton emails in the last couple of days. Do you have any thoughts on the criticism? As a Democrat, I agree that they were clearly newsworthy but thought that a lot of the coverage didn't have the context needed for people to understand them - of course a presidential campaign has lots of potential slogans and internal debate over policy!

I can't speak directly to Nick's comments because I simply haven't seen them yet. I think of course hacked emails are newsworthy during an election. The chair of the DNC stepped down after some came out reportedly showing staff underneath her complaining about Bernie Sanders.

But I think in general, news coverage ALWAYS needs more context. What does this mean, as much as we can discern right now? What do we know and what don't we know? What's normal or not normal about this particular story? Not to be all self-promo-y, but that's why The Fix exists. So we can provide context and analysis to the day's news to help readers better understand why they should pay attention to it. 

What do you think Catherine and William will name their new baby?

Is there a male version of "Amber"? Cause, that one. 


Good one!

Should he really be a "slam dunk" though? His breathless praise of Trump's physical condition might make it so for Trump but placing a man with really NO management experience to manage one of the biggest bureaucracies in government seems like an inevitable disaster.

I should clarify: A Republican president's pick to lead the VA -- an agency Republicans campaign on fixing -- should be slam dunk in a Republican Senate. Instead he's imploding, for exactly the reasons you point out. I go into more details here on how unusual this is -- and avoidable on Trump's part. (Like, vet the guy first!)

Let's say Democrats take back Congress, change the filibuster rules (Trump's been asking!), and start sending substantive legislation to President Trump. Does he whip out his veto stamp, or start signing the stuff?

Depends what it is. There could be room for compromise on infrastructure reform and even trade deals, but especially on the former, the room for compromise is slim. 

A universal background check gun bill or legalization for dreamers without Trump's changes to legal immigration are probably a no-no. 


I'm not ready to say Trump's chief of staff is out, though on a list of top 5-ish officials most likely to get fired next by Trump, I'd probably put Kelly on there.

I do think the fact Trump is still on Twitter, still on his personal cell phone and still talking to outside advisers Kelly would rather he not talk to does suggest Kelly's influence on the president is limited. The chief of staff's job is largely to be gate keeper to the president, and keeping Trump gated is a struggle.

Hi Amber -- thanks for taking questions today. So this past weekend, we have the funeral of a beloved Republican First Lady and the president (also Republican) sends the current First Lady to attend, which seems appropriate, but said Republican president spends the day tweeting and golfing and all in all having a great weekend, rather than keeping a low profile out of respect for the occasion. Unless I missed it, no one on either side seems to care. RIP, good manners and, of course, optics?

I think it's more that Trump has struggled with optics -- especially when it comes to empathy -- for so long now, neither side found it particularly new or newsworthy?  

I think the closest, besides Ambrose which was a good catch, is Albert which rumor has it is in the close running. I think you should bet on this (this would be my bet as well...).

Yeah that's the one leading all the bookie bets, right?

Also, for those of you wondering why today's chat is suddenly infused with talk about people in another country who aren't even in politics, it's because:
1. I'm obsessed with Kate Middleton and
2. I shared my obsession with my 5-Minute Fix newsletter readers on Monday (wapo.st/fix-newsletter) and encouraged them to join into our chat, especially with Kate questions! So thanks everyone for doing that

Pruitt? Or not until he performs more dismantling of the EPA?

Pruitt is No. 1 on that list. I'm just not sure when (or even if, at this point), he's going to get fired. The steady drip drip drip of news about his ethical challenges has gone on for two months now. At some point does the president get immune to it? 

No Dems invited??? Is Trump trying to divide us?

Yeah, this isn't normal. President Obama invited some of his most vocal critics to state dinners, which are more symbolic and pomp than partisan or substantial. But it also doesn't surprise me: Trump has rarely done anything traditional as president, and he often infuses politics into every aspect of his presidency. 

Am I right in thinking that this special election is not quite as special as some of the recent ones? no doubt both parties would like to win, but the stakes do not seem as high.

Well, Republican leaders are certainly taking it seriously, pouring in money and high profile names, like President Trump and wannabe speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy. This is a district similar to the one Democrats won in March in Pennsylvania, in that Trump won it by 20 points.

But, for a variety of reasons, this district isn't expected to be quite as competitive for Democrats as Conor Lamb was in Pennsylvania. Still, I think it's newsworthy if Democrat Hiral Tipirneni can eat into Trump's win by 10 or more points

What is up with the "bromance" between Trump and Macron? Am I the only one just a bit creeped out by their interactions?It seems a bit passive aggressive on Macron's part - kill Trump with kindness/flattery while secretly hating his guts, perhaps?

I think there's a reason Macron is the closest European leader to Trump despite their obvious generational and policy differences. And it's because Macron seems to know how to play Trump's diplomacy game: Flattery, glitz and glamour and savvy about speaking Trump's language, like by doing an interview on Fox News. 

That being said, while Trump clearly likes Macron, he often listens to the last person he talked to -- and that's likely to be his aides, who oppose the Iran deal/Paris climate agreement/recent free trade deals that Macron wants Trump to join.


Only two? Didn't Kim Kardashian have like, 5, for that one wedding with that one basketball player that lasted as long as Scott Walker's presidential bid did?

Is this all some kind of bad dream?

Depends what you're talking about. The fact that it's still rainy and 50s in late April here in Washington feels like a very bad dream to me

How unusual is it for the guest list to contain not one member of the opposition party?? Did Obama and GW Bush do that?

See above a few questions. It is very unusual, but entirely not surprising for Trump.


Another good one!


That is a cool photo of all four past presidents. And The Fix founder Chris Cillizza, now at CNN, has the back story of that photo. The photog who took it had worked for two of those presidents (W Bush and Clinton) and got asked by George HW Bush's office to take photos. 

How about "Ambrew"? Although I guess that's really less a boy's name than a bro's name.

Or, like, the name of some hipster beer in Montana 

James Brown had costume changes during his funeral, so the bar is pretty high.

Holy cow, really?

If congressional races were held next week, instead of 6 months later, what would be your predicted outcome? Enough gains for the D's to take the House? House and Senate? R's hold onto both houses?

To answer that, I'd look at the generic ballot numbers. That's how many more people say they'd vote for a generic, nameless Democrat for Congress over a generic, nameless Republican. Recent history suggests Democrats need to be ahead by 6-8 points in that poll to take back the House. They were up as high as 13 points over Republicans at one point this year. Right now, it's closer to 4 points in a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll. 

PA. redistricting now places him in GOP Rep. Keith Rothfuss' redrawn district (less Republican than before). So who's likelier to win -- the incumbent because of incumbent advantage, or Lamb because of all the publicity that his special election generated?

Prognosticators say Lamb is has the edge precisely because the district is drawn to be much more Democratic. 

"... his ethical challenges has gone on ... At some point does the President get immune to it?" I think that's assuming that he even cares in the first place about ethics. I would argue, given the track record of the last 15 months, that he does not. I mean, his own ethics-levels don't appear that high, and he tends to only care about himself, so .....

A better way to frame this would be: Pruitt's ethical challenges are a problem for Trump in that they create negative headlines for Trump, stealing the attention away from the president and giving him a PR headache. 

Are there any pieces of legislation that will likely make it to the President to sign into law over the next couple of months? Or will it be four years of confirmation hearings?

I think at least six months of confirmation hearings and not much else. Congress is focused on November's midterm elections. After that, who knows. It depends which party controls either chamber. If Republicans keep both, they need to think quickly about what they want to do next. Is it welfare reform? If so, that's going to be a massive undertaking that, from the outside looking in, they don't seem prepared for. 

I've been reading up on the gilded age, and I guess there have always been Americans who are terrified of immigrants and others? #StrangeDaysIndeed

Well, as The Post's Supreme Court reporter Bob Barnes reported on Monday, the Trump administration got good news in December when the justices on the Supreme Court decided to override lower courts' rulings and let the third version of the travel ban go into effect fully. It's rare for the Supreme Court to reverse itself. 

No Offense, I know new Mom Kate has agency over long she'll stay in the hospital, but to shove her out there in Makeup and Heels! Get a grip England! Let her off her feet for a bit.

There's a column on that in The Post's On Parenting blog that says pretty much the exact same thing. 

I was looking through some old clippings and noticed that its really hard to keep up with everything. For instance, during the Comey memos, wasn't there other memos released about the President trying to obstruct justice? Where does this all end?

Two years after his campaign launch, I annotated Trump's campaign launch speech. It was fascinating to look back at that moment, when Trump was very much not seen as the front-runner, now that he's president. 

To your broader point, yes it's extremely hard to keep up. Not to be all self-promo-y, but I write an afternoon newsletter that aims to help all of us (myself included) keep track of this stuff. Check it out here: wapo.st/fix-newsletter

It feels a little quiet out there, (for like a whole one to three days), re next big developments in the Russia and or Cohen sagas. It's leaving me to wonder what the next big development could be that could nudge this president further down the road to an early departure from power.

Anyone who says they know how this will go down is feeding you horse doo-doo. Of course watch the Russia investigation and the parallel investigation into Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. But we don't know what will come out of it nor how Republicans in Congress will react. So far they are leaning toward giving the president an enormous heaping scoop of the benefit of the doubt when it comes to whether Trump wants to or will fire special counsel Robert Mueller. 

Without much legislative action since President Trump's inauguration, will the midterms be solely a validation/repudiation of President Trump? It is hard to determine if lives are better since the presidential election. The economy is chugging away, but it does not seem like the election has made much economic impact on the population. Is this accurate? On what (besides our feelings about the President) can we base our votes?

You tell me, dear voter, what you're going to base your vote on!

Talk to different sides in Washington and, no surprise, they'll tell you different predictions about what will get people out to vote. Republicans are hoping their tax plan will motivate voters. Democrats are hoping anti-Trump sentiment will motivate voters. The White House is hoping the economy will motivate voters, and Democrats tell me they are skeptical that voters will give this president credit for an improving economy -- though all of this is theory right now, theory colored by each side's hopes for what will happen.

Why would Rudy Giuliani sign on as Trump's lawyer? At this point in his life, Giuliani appears to do things for his own benefit. How will this move help Giuliani's future?

File this under things I am not willing to do: Psychoanalyze Rudy Giuliani. He marches to the beat of his own drum. 

It looks like the initiative to have voters in CALF decide on a plan to split the state into three will make it onto the ballot. Chances that this passes in Nov? If so, how many of the 6 Senators from the three states will likely be Democrats?

Oh goodness, I am not going to predict whether a state will split up -- remember a few years ago when Texas Republicans were kinda sorta seriously considering seceding? It did not come to fruition, as these fringe ideas often don't.

But if it does make the ballot and gains momentum, I'll follow up on this! 

Thanks for your fantastic questions today! Trump and Macron are giving a joint press conference, so I'm going to go listen to that now. See you on The Fix and in my newsletter, The 5-Minute Fix, for the rest of the week. Until 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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