Ask Amber from The Fix

Oct 16, 2018

Happy Tuesday. I write about politics for The Fix blog, and I'm chatting live here every Tuesday at noon Eastern about the day's biggest political news. What are you curious about?

Welcome to Tuesday. It's lunchtime in DC and the president has already: 

-tweeted about Elizabeth Warren's Native American heritage three times, denigrating her and Native Americans by calling her "Pocahontas."

-insulted a woman who claims she had an affair with him as "horseface" (part of a trend of how Trump reacts to women he feels threatened by)

-claimed he doesn't have financial ties to Saudi Arabia as he continues to give the country wiggle room in the disappearance of a journalist

-re-upped questionable conspiracies about the origins of the FBI Russia investigation

-did I mention it's not noon yet technically?

Oh, and we haven't even gotten to the midterm elections. I have updated House, governor and Senate rankings -- with new Senate rankings coming out today or tomorrow.

Thanks for joining me on my last live chat until March or so. I'm hoping that by next Tuesday, I'll be a mom! The Fix's Aaron Blake will still chat every Friday at noon Eastern. The Fix will still be bringing you the fastest, smartest political analysis in all the land, and my thrice-weekly PM newsletter, The 5-Minute Fix, will still be going strong. 

I'm from purple Chesterfield County, and watched the debate between Spanberger and Brat last night. I found his strategy of bringing up Nancy Pelosi 21 times curious. You would think Spanberger was the two-term incumbent, not Brat. What gives there?

I think Rep. David Brat (R) is latching onto House Republicans' main strategy this election cycle to rally their base: Talk about the boogeywoman that could lead the House if Democrats take control. It underscores how they don't have a ton else to campaign on. Their tax bill is questionably popular and driving up the deficit, potentially undermining what is a strong economy. And their president is historically unpopular. 

How in the world is Beto going to spend $38 million between now and Election Day?

As I argued on Friday about the Texas Democrats' absolutely insane fundraising haul:

There are a lot of other places this money might be more useful. One GOP operative calculates that what O’Rourke raised in three months is more than three times what Democrats have spent in North Dakota so far. It’s more than double what Democrats have spent in Tennessee and West Virginia.

All of those races are more competitive than Texas.

If Dems win back the Senate and House, do you think they'd try to re-instate the filibuster rule for judicial nominees? I know they're the ones who eliminated it in the first place, but it seems readily apparent that it's fundamentally harmful to the integrity of our democratic institutions to be confirming Supreme Court justices with a 50-48 vote, especially when legitimate concerns have been raised about the nominee. Or do they honestly just not give a hoot about our democratic institutions anymore?

Interesting question. For this to happen, Democrats would have to win the Senate back, since the filibuster is only a tool in that chamber. And that's looking increasingly less likely.

But even though Democrats couldn't stop Brett Kavanaugh from getting on the Supreme Court because the filibuster for nominees is now gone, I have a hard time seeing them trying to reinstate it. What goes around comes around. Life is sometimes easier for Democrats without a filibuster (when they win the presidency and control the Senate, they can speed through judicial nominees at a record pace, too). And sometimes it's harder, like what we just witnessed with Kavanaugh.

If Democrats take the House, would Mitch McConnell get rid of the filibuster completely to pass a budget that funds the wall and avoid a shut down? The lame duck session would be their last chance to give the President money for a wall. Would the small group of Republicans in the House that pretty much reject everything because of their opposition to most government spending be on board for that? Would the Republicans put forward a budget for the agencies that are left on the continuing resolution that is a fraction of what they have now like cutting the FDA by 50% or Interior by 70% or the IRS by [fill in the blank]% to get support for funding the wall from the hold out Republicans? How is this going to play out?

Another filibuster question! And a good reminder that while the filibuster for nominees is gone, the filibuster for legislation still exists. And I have a very hard time seeing that go anytime soon. The ability for the minority party to block legislation is what makes the Senate different from the House, and senators on both sides of the aisle pride themselves on that. 

Now, to talk shut down: I do see the risk of a shut down in December, when Congress has to get another spending bill through the president's desk. Republican leaders like Paul Ryan have warned there could be a really big fight between Trump, moderate Republicans and Democrats over funding his border wall. Especially if Democrats take back the House and assume the majority in January, December will be Trump's last best chance to make good on his signature campaign promise before 2020!

I don't usually participate in this and read them after the fact, but I just wanted to chime in to add one more voice saying I'll miss these while they're gone and wish you nothing but the best!

I love first-time or irregular questioners! And thanks for the good wishes. I genuinely will miss y'all too, and I am already excited to come back and joust with such smart readers. 

Sinema has had many of her past statements dug up, that are a gold mine for McSally. Do you have a sense if these are hurting Sinema or not?

My reporting so far suggests it's not resonating as much as Republicans had hoped -- questions of whether she was really homeless, how she protested the Iraq War in a pink tutu and apparently invited pagans to protest, too. Those last two hits on her have stayed largely within conservative media circles.

As you'll see in my soon-to-be published Senate rankings, Democrats think Arizona is more likely to go to them than another neck-and-neck state, like Florida. 

Hey Amber, do you think the Cherokee flap and the horseface imbroglio will cancel each other out for the midterms? How much will Trump's alleged financial ties with the Saudis factor in? Congrats again! Becoming a dad was the best thing that ever happened to me!

Hey! A few points

1. I'm going to be honest and say no idea how Trump calling Stormy Daniels "horseface" affects the midterms. Some analysts have already pointed out that voters stood by Trump when he insulted other women's looks during the primary and presidential campaign, so why would his supporters abandon him now? I think that's a fair argument especially in midterms where his party's control of Congress is on the line.

2. As I just wrote for The Fix, I think Warren taking a DNA test could backfire on her a little bit by stirring up the controversy rather than putting it to rest. I think Trump has already pushed away any potential voters deciding their vote on this, because he's called her "Pocahontas" for a few years now.

3. And if voters aren't paying attention to the Russia investigation much, as polls suggest, I don't see how they zero in on Trump's potential financial ties to Saudi Arabia. But Democrats in Congress plan to zero in on that soon.

And, thanks! I'm very excited to become a parent.

How much do Trump's attacks help her in a Democratic primary? If any campaign raises questions about her ancestry claims then she can just brush it off as copying racist Trump rhetoric even if the questions are legit - like asking why she identified as Native American when her older relatives were dying but then stopped even though it would have been a way to honor them?

I think the Democratic presidential primary is going to be more about policy -- who's further to the left on health care, guns, immigration -- than anything else. But anti-Trump creds will be a big part of it, too, and Elizabeth Warren is directly taking Trump on right now, showing she's got plenty of those. 

Then there's Warren's potential attempt to appeal to voters of color.

As my Fix colleague Eugene Scott wrote: "while Warren enjoys name recognition and certainly some popularity with many on the left, much of the attention about the future of the Democratic Party is directed at the base, which is largely made up of people of color."

Hope everything goes well. And if you have any cocnerns call 911 Firefighters and EMTS would rather it be nothing than for it to be real mergency and not its even more serious. Plus they live for this

Thanks! I got that same advice from a firefighter (guessing you're one or know one) in an infant CPR class. 

I don't understand the uproar over Warren's DNA test. She never said she was Native American, she said she had one or more members of her family tree who were Native American, there's a difference. My great-great grandmother was Native American, and I would never call myself Native American, because that's not the culture I was raised in or identify with. It's Trump who loosely throws the various terms around.

Good question. The concern, as I explain here, is that Warren misrepresented herself as a minority while at Harvard Law School even though she did not meet the federal standards to list herself as Native American. 

Or, shorter: That she was using one culture she's distantly related to for her advantage. There is NO evidence she used this to get hired -- even Republicans at Harvard backed her up on that. 

But you could also argue Trump is doing the same thing by seizing on "Pocahontas" in a derogatory way to slam one of his political opponents.

Hi Amber Am I the only Democrat who believes that Pelosi (and Hoyer) need to go not because she is a Republican bogeyman but because it's never good to have the same leadership for 20 years?

Nope, you fit in with a sizeable number of House Democrats in Congress and Democratic candidates who feel the same way. 

I have a feeling if the president didn't again mention her name she would fade away into the night. Now she will get another 2 weeks of publicity out of this.

I think that's fair

I'm getting LOTS of smart Elizabeth Warren questions, and I'm about to answer most of them in one swoop, but it will take me a few minutes. So hang tight!

Hi Amber -- I hope you have a wonderful break spending time with your new family member! My Tuesday mornings won't be the same while you are away. My question -- what's your sense of whether Sen. Warren helped herself with this whole DNA testing story? While I'm sure she got very tired of Trump and his tauntings, I'm not really sure it was such a good idea...sort of like stooping to his level, which is just giving him more oxygen (which doesn't seem possible, since he's already sucked every available molecule out of the political atmosphere, but there we are). It just strikes me as a very strange way to signal your intentions about 2020. What do you think?

Thanks! I really appreciate that.

And, smart question: I think it's entirely possible you're right, that Warren's DNA test may backfire on her. As I wrote in a Fix post today:

Warren wanted to put Trump’s attacks at rest by taking this test. But it’s possible that her move only stirred up the controversy. The Cherokee Nation, which in 2012 mostly stayed out of the furor, said it was “inappropriate” for Warren to claim a connection to the tribal nation — most likely aware of how this could be a major campaign issue in a few years and unwilling to be drawn into it.

Plus, the DNA test suggests that Warren has Native American ancestry from many generations ago, distant enough to allow Republicans to plausibly slice and dice the numbers to argue that her heritage is minimal. (And they have.)

Warren didn't do this to satisfy Trump or his supporters. She did it so that the question was "answered", before her Presidential campaign begins in earnest. Now when she's actually running and Trump says something about it, the press can simply state that the test was done, and the story won't get traction (outside of the conservative bubble, anyway). And by dropping it now, it won't stay in the headlines for long and doesn't become something bigger. In short - this was all about making sure it wouldn't become a real story once her official campaign is underway.

Well, the potential problem for Warren is that Trump and Republicans think there is enough traction to keep this story going.

Trump tweeted three times today about it today alone -- hence why we're still taking about it. And as I just mentioned in the question above, there's enough discrepancy in what the test says for Republicans to give their base reasons to doubt it.

Plus, the broader question isn't her ancestry. It's how she may have left her previous employer use it to tout their diversity. 

There seems to be a lot of talk that Senator Warren shot herself in the foot by releasing her DNA test. Since Obama got away with engaging Trump on the birth certificate issue, is this criticism of Warren just more misogyny by the chattering classes?

No, I don't think criticizing or covering critically Warren's DNA test is misogynistic at all. (Though the president's "Pocahontas attack could fit into that category.)

Obama's birth certificate and Warren's Native American ancestry are two very different things. One was a conspiracy theory elevated by Trump. There have been real questions about how much Warren let Harvard use her "minority status" to tout its faculty's diversity.

My thought was that she's trying to bury the controversy now, precisely because she doesn't want it as a distraction going forward. If we get to 2019 or 2020 and people are still trashing her for this, she can say, Old news. Let's talk about [insert policy issue here] instead.

Yes but Trump is very, very good at making old news new again.

So let's say Nancy Pelosi is Speaker come January (I guess yahoo?), but has she ever groomed a successor? Xavier Becerra seems like he should have stuck around, no?

There is definitely a dearth of obvious leadership in the House Democratic caucus right now -- a reflection of how Democrats have struggled to help members of their party get elected and move up the ranks. This problem goes all the way down to statehouses and Democrats' extraordinary loss of seats and control during the Obama years.

As of this morning, Nate Silver projects only a 10% chance the GOP picks up more than 4 seats. Current polling suggests the GOP will not lose any incumbents, and has at least a 50/50 shot at picking up seats in Missouri, North Dakota, Florida, and Montana (I would add Indiana to that list). Which other seats are most likely to go GOP, and how have Baldwin (the most liberal senator) and Brown (much more liberal than Ohio generally) survived so far?

I wouldn't rule out West Virginia, though Joe Manchin's seat is seemingly getting more out of reach for Republicans by the day.

I think Democrats have done a remarkable job staying competitive in the Midwest. As one Democratic operative pointed out to me, Democrats have neutralized supposedly competitive Senate races from Michigan to Pennsylvania. There is evidence that voters in these states that voted for Trump just aren't as thrilled with the president and the Republican Party. (My colleagues had a great piece about this over the weekend.)

Each time Trump and the GOP cross yet another red line in terms of norms, undermining our institutions, etc., I can't help but think of a line from a Robin Hobb book: “Don’t do what you can’t undo, until you’ve considered what you can’t do once you’ve done it.”

I was just talking to a former House Dem investigator who thinks House Democrats will be investigating Trump and his administration "off the charts" next year if they win control of that chamber, in part because there are so many ethical lines and norms being crossed by the president.

But how much control, really, would Warren have had over Harvard using her name to tout its diversity? Are we blaming her for something she didn't have any influence over?

Good question. When this was an issue in the 2012 Senate campaign, the Boston Globe also reported that for at least six years, Harvard University reported to the federal government that it had a Native American law professor. It was a statistic the paper argued was probably reported by Warren herself to the school, since the school apparently relied on employers to report their minority status information.

somewhat related to the Warren some point, won't the press have to differentiate between Trumps "campaign" tweets and his "presidential" tweets?

I don't think Trump does -- he blurs that line sufficiently every day. 

I've read several articles reporting that Hispanic voters are not engaged. Why not? Seems like Trump's racists attacks and immigration policy and hurricane Maria performance should have outraged and motivated Hispanic and Latino voters.

That's a good question. Operatives thought turnout would be high in 2016 for similar reasons, and it wasn't much of a difference. This is a hard demographic to get motivated to vote.

Where does the media and the insiders in both parties put the state of the Gov and Senate race at the moment?

I've reported on both recently, and they are shaping up to be the truest or true toss-up races (as Florida usually is) that right now are slightly favoring Democrats.

so how about the Dems win the House, she becomes Speaker then retires in January 2020 giving her sucessor time to bed in before the 2020 General election. Means she gets to leave with some dignity and gives possible younger replacements a year to set out their stalls and build support

I see her likely to stay on through the 2020 presidential election. Is she even talking retirement? I don't think so

I think if the Democrats take the House, they should elect Barack Obama as Speaker.

Did you know that you -- or anyone -- can technically be speaker of the House

Couldn't he just promise a ton of free Willie concerts with the 38 million over the next year to get elected? I've heard it said that Texans believe their go to Willie's house when they die.

As a Texan, I'd support free Willie Nelson concerts forever.

That Warren's approach (get it out there so it's a "non-issue") is the complete opposite of Trump's who won't do things like release his tax returns.

That's one way to look at it. I also think she's playing Trump's game a little bit, going after him in tweet storms and egging him on about the $1M campaign contribution. She's proven in the past that she doesn't mind taking the fight to Trump where he is (Twitter) and on his terms ("Pocahontas"). 

You said earlier: "There is NO evidence she used this to get hired" about Elizabeth Warren's claims of Native American heritage. While it is true that there is no evidence that anyone factored her claims into her hiring (or even knew about them), can you say that there is no evidence that she didn't try to use this to get hired? As in that she could have marked Native American to try and get hired but no one who hired her ever factored that in.

According to what the Boston media litigated in that 2012 Senate campaign, it seems Warren did not have any conversations about her heritage when getting hired. That seems pretty firmed down. What happened afterward is the question.

Final Prediction: Dems gain 31 house seats Rs gain 3 Senate senate seats Dems gain 6 Gov seats What is your prediction?


I'm a little less bullish than you. I think it's possible Democrats take back the House by just a couple seats (so, maybe 25). Republicans keep the Senate with just a 1-2 seat majority (so they pick up one or so). And Democrats gain 3-4 governor's mansions. 

yes, the employees self-report their ethnicity, and can decline to check any box if they want. So Warren likely did report herself as Native American, if she were the professor noted in their report.

Thanks for sharing. That's what the Boston Globe reported as well.

Guessing as a Texan there's a frustration, but one thing that nationalizes a local race is when anyone can talk about it and have an opinion without knowing much about the state. The fact that Rep. O'Rourke is from El Paso means something to Texans (it's kind of a negative since it's so removed from most of the state), but not much to the rest of the Union.

And my understanding is that's why Democrats weren't too worried he ceded some 30% of his primary vote to way lesser-known candidates. People in the east and south were like "Who is this El Paso guy?" That's O'Rourke's challenge, now. 

Hope all goes well with your new child. I'll be sad to go the last three weeks of this cycle without you. I'll console myself with tacos.

Thank you! If you find any good tacos within a 20-mile radius of Washington, D.C., I'll be on Twitter occasionally so let me know. Mm...tacos. 

Just best wishes on your adventure! Go mom it up!

Thank you! A perfect way to end this live chat. Keep on thinking and asking smart questions, and I'll see y'all on the other side of the midterm elections.

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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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