Ask Amber from The Fix

Sep 17, 2019

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 and happy Tuesday! Thanks for joining me to talk this week's politics. We'll start at 12 Eastern.

I feel like we're re-living fall 2018 with some of the news going on. Here's what I'm watching:

Democrats probably can't/won't impeach Kavanaugh. But they can make him a political weapon. And Trump's just fine with that; he's got his own way to weaponize this new allegation. (Background on why Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh is in the news again in the first place.)

Does crowd size matter? Cause Elizabeth Warren had a massive one in New York City last night. 

Why Democrats are struggling to message their impeachment inquiry into Trump and what that says about the success of any effort to actually impeach him

Trump is handing Democrats an opening on the economy, a sentence that was unthinkable a few months ago.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is backing a primary challenger to a sitting House Democrat, testing her power to shape the Democratic party beyond, as Nancy Pelosi put it once, tweets.

Okay, what are you curious about?

I keep hearing Democrats talking about eliminating the filibuster, and it was even a question in the last debate. But honestly I'd like to see Democrats simply get rid of the virtual filibuster. My understanding is that originally the filibuster meant someone had to stand in the Senate and keep talking. In 1975, Senators changed the rules so they could filibuster virtually, meaning they didn't have to talk, and they didn't even have to be in the room at the time. As a first step, I'd like to see this virtual filibuster eliminated, and then let's see how much it gets used, and whether Senators are still willing to stand in front of camera and visibly block popular legislation. Maybe they will, I don't know, but I'd like to see this first step before getting rid of the filibuster completely. Is there something I don't know that makes this a bad idea?

Good distinction between the actual filibuster and the THREAT of a filibuster. I don't think there's a way to get rid of the threat; it's just something all senators agree to use as a proxy for the actual thing, to save time. Senators have tried to nibble around the edges of a filibuster for years (including that 1975 ruling, which as I understand it tried to make it more difficult to filibuster). But filibusters are still a regular thing; eventually, though, I think they will not exist. I just don't know when that will happen.

Hi Amber -- thanks for taking questions today. I understand why the Democrats, especially those running for the nomination, would pounce on the latest Kavanaugh brouhaha. What I don't understand is why oh why they do not make the Supreme Court a bigger issue. In other words, give us the presidency and, while you're at it, the Senate, and we'll make sure guys like this don't end up on the Supreme Court. As someone who desperately wants to see Trump sent packing before he has the opportunity for another appointment, I'm not seeing that message and in my view that is a huge mistake that they made the last time around and they're making it again.

Thanks for asking your question! I think Democrats, as a party, are JUST starting to catch up to what conservatives have known for a couple election cycles now: Get your base to care about the Supreme Court, and it drives voters.

I think Democrats had an opportunity in 2016 to make that message, and for reasons I still don't yet understand, it didn't come across. I mean, Republicans were refusing to hold hearings on Barack Obama's nominee -- a historic event, and an egregious one for Democrats -- and Democrats did not turn out in any greater numbers than past elections to ensure that open seat would be filled by a Democrat. 

Are we doing odds yet? I feel like we should be doing odds.

This is on my to-do list this week! So, I don't know the odds of a shutdown this fall, but they seem low to happen at the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30) because it looks like Congress is seriously talking about just kicking the can down the road and passing a continuing resolution to keep the government funded at this year's fiscal levels. The big question, AS ALWAYS, is whether Trump will go to war again to get more money for his wall. Maybe not now that his administration is taking money from the Pentagon to build parts of it.

I would like some more information / discussion Elizabeth Warren. She has come to the Forefront the lately and I think she might be a true contender. I was DieHard Clinton supporter and believe it is time a woman represented that great office.

You are among the majority of Democrats who also think a woman or other minority can beat Trump.

Also, after a solid debate performance, she is gaining even more steam as a candidate. Did you see the crowds for her in New York City last night?

Here's some recent Warren coverage from The Post:

Warren releases plan to tackle Washington corruption

Warren just scored a big win over Sanders to be progressives' standard-bearer

While teaching, Warren worked on about 60 legal matters, far more than previously disclosed

Have the Democrats had any movement on getting real candidates into the Senate races, or are they stuck with C-listers (Tomlinson, etc.)?

Congressional candidate Jon Ossoff got in, but, perplexingly, not for the open Isakson seat; to defeat David Perdue. That primary already has a couple candidates who national Democrats like.

This is the problem for Democrats in Georgia, Republicans argue: Besides Stacey Abrams, they don't have a bench. Democrats argue that the political make up of Georgia matters more than the bold name of their candidate. And the political make up of Georgia is trending Democratic -- I'm just not sure it's there yet. 

Hi Amber, We have a pretty good idea of what the Dems would do after eliminating the legislative filibuster. Do you have any thoughts on what a GOP-controlled Senate would do without such a constraint? I tend to believe that the filibuster is an anachronism, and protects senators from doing their jobs and having a straight up/down vote. That said, we don't read or hear a lot about what type of policies Republicans would try to get through - beyond repealing Dem-passed laws, of course.

First up, probably: Get rid of Obamacare. They said at a retreat this past weekend it's something they'd consider doing if they won back the House and kept control of the rest of Washington. 

Buttigieg is criticizing O'Rourke for the "Hell Yes...." statement (and selling of T shirts with that message printed on them), saying it hurts the party. Cillizza says Beto handed Republicans a big gift with what he said. Do you agree?

I do agree with Cillizza that O'Rourke's "hell yes" comment at the debate (where he said he would take away people's AR-15s) doesn't help the delicate negotiations going on on Capitol Hill about expanding background checks in the wake of back-to-back mass shootings this summer. 

Re-instituting the assault rifle ban is near the top of gun-control advocates' wish lists, but it's just not feasible in this climate. Consider that 80, 90 percent of Americans support expanding background checks to make them universal, and yet it's a non-starter for Republicans in Congress.

It's probably not a coincidence that after the debate, Trump's tweeting/saying that he is open to debate unless Democrats want to take away people's guns. To be clear, I am NOT blaming O'Rourke for the break-down of negotiations (if it happens, it was going to happen anyway). I'm just saying it gives people like Trump an easy out to not do anything on guns, by using what O'Rourke said to disingenuously paint Democrats as extreme.

I thought that it was a done deal once the democrats from farm states told Nancy Pelosi to back down on not raising the borrowing limit for the program being used to pay farmers for their lost business? Is there anything else holding it up? Doing the CR to November 21st should give them plenty of time to hash things out. But with McConnell's "I only have a vote if the President says OK" rule, they are possibly dealing with a moving target.

We are on the same page on what could hold up at CR: Trump. It's just prudent to consider him a wild card to ANY budget negotiation. He once threaten to veto a spending bill as it was on its way from the Capitol to him to sign.

I don't understand why everyone, on both sides, don't address this. This is setting a very dangerous precedent. I, for one, can't wait until a Democrat regains the WH and refuses to allow anyone that has ever come in contact with them comply with congressional subpoenas. McConnell will have apoplexy.

Well, the ability to subpoena people is a constitutional tool Congress has to check/balance the executive branch. It's the ignoring nearly ALL of them as it relates to Trump that is more troublesome to democracy, constitutional experts tell me. And ironically, that is what is pushing a number of House Democrats to support an impeachment inquiry: If Trump won't cooperate with regular investigations, then what choice do they have? 

You think Democratic might do well in New York City? Really? Warren getting crowd in major urban centers like there or Seattle or Minneapolis seems weird since it's places like Hillsborough County, Florida or Macomb County, Michigan or Erie County, Pennsylvania that swing national elections for better or worst.

True. However, those places haven't voted (yet). So until then, crowd size wherever the presidential candidate goes is one data point we use to determine their popular-ness. 

Kudos to the Washington Post for saying that they passed on reporting a story that doesn't meet journalistic standards (due to faulty sourcing).

I'll pass on the thanks! to the reporters who handled it. 

My hunch is that the Democratic establishment's strategy is to keep Trump off-kilter by not letting him be sure of whether they'll try to impeach or not. Sort of a Sword of Damocles hanging over his head.

Not a bad hunch, and totally won't put it past Nancy Pelosi to be that cunning. (Though I honestly do think she would rather not have an impeachment inquiry going right now.)

If you were Kamala Harris' chief adviser, what would you tell her to do? She seems to have lost her momentum, and I am startign to wonder if a reboot is possible. Do you see any way that she could turn her campaign around? OR does she just hang in and wait for the top tier candidates to implode?

Same thing as every other candidate: Campaign the heck outta Iowa and do really well there. For her I'd say she needs to be top 3 or 4. 

Living in Iowa, I don't approach crowd size as an absolute measure. I look at it relative to expectations and/or what other candidates are drawing. If a second or third tier candidate starts bringing in crowds on par with the top candidates, it's worth noting. If a widely-known candidate draws poorly, that's a sign of a campaign in trouble.

I think that's a smart way to put it.

Though I will say Iowa is different than the other states, because candidates purposefully try to do small, intimate settings. Crowd size isn't as much of a thing in Iowa as it is elsewhere.

Like so many others, I ponder what is going on in congressional Republicans' heads as they seemingly abandon their party identity. Do they really think everything will go back to the way it was before Trump after he leaves office? That's the only thing I can imagine, that they think the Trump years are a chance to grab and snatch a few goodies, and then he's gone and will go down in history as a temporary aberration. Is this the way they think?

I'd note that some Democrats also feel that way: There's a debate in the party about whether Joe Biden is right, that after Trump things will go back to normal and Republicans will be more amenable to compromise. Elizabeth Warren sees things differently, that Democrats need to start fighting as hard as their getting hit, because this is the new reality. 

I say that to underscore how difficult of a conversation this must be for Republicans in assessing their own party honestly. 

I'm probably wrong, but I kind of want Warren to have a really bad news cycle or a bigger dust up in a debate than John Delaney before I'll really buy into her candidacy. I want to see how she deals with not glowing coverage since it's coming to start the day any of them get the nomination.

I mean, questions about her Native American heritage have stuck around, and when she tried to answer it last year once and for all by taking a DNA test and rolling it out with a glossy video, she got accused by the corresponding Native American tribe for politicizing them. 

Elizabeth Warren always good and right and Beto O'Rourke always bad and wrong. Every single week. It's your opinion and that's fine, but it's gotten kind of obvious and cliché.

So, I don't agree with that analysis of my analysis. But I will say my job is to analyze what's happening in the news, and the news hasn't been great for O'Rourke the past couple weeks  (his swearing, his debate comments about guns), while Warren has been having a pretty good run the past few weeks. What I'm trying to say is, I'm calling it like it is. Reality is dictating my analysis, not my opinion.  

Democrats should simply message that all of their investigations are driven towards the goal of handing ample evidence to the next Democratic AG to prosecute Trump and any members of his family/administration that have committed malfeasance in office. Forget the silly impeachment effort that is doomed to fail.

I think the problem for Democrats is that some of them believe impeaching him is the constitutionally right thing to do, after all they learned in the Mueller report, and they are trying to set aside the politics. I include Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler in this group.

Do you think that the Trump campaign really thinks they can flip NM (like Wisconsin & Michigan in 2016) or do they want the Dems to spend time & money there?

They've told me in off the record chats they think they can flip New Mexico. That being said, Trump is also reportedly focusing on trying to win back Virginia, which ain't gunna happen. So I recognize the data set they're using to put New Mexico in play (people crossing the border to his Texas rallies), but I question their objective analysis of this .

Thanks for taking questions today. I have read that if the House has a formal impeachment inquiry that they will have an easier time getting access to documents, testimony, etc. How does this work? Also, do they now have this access or do they need to formally announce an impeachment inquiry?

Thanks for asking your questions; two good ones.

1. They can argue in courts that they need the underlying grand jury testimony in the Mueller report -- the stuff that contains all the goods -- because they are conducting an impeachment inquiry. Grand jury testimony is normally kept sealed for a variety of reasons, UNLESS it's for a related court case. Well, Congress can argue it's conducting a related court case. Here's more on how that works

2. They can just say the "i" word in court documents to invoke that power. And they have! 

Why isn’t anyone talking about impeaching Mitch McConnell? I am probably ignorant on this, and there are probably enough other Russian assets in the Senate who would take up where Mitch leaves off. But without McConnell, Trump has less power, doesn’t he?

Well, Democrats are starting to talk about impeaching McConnell by another name -- getting him out of office, either by an uphill election next year in Kentucky, or winning back the Senate. Democrats think talking about McConnell is a winning strategy to motivate Trump-fatigued voters. And you're probably a good test case of that! 

President Trump has effectively neutered the democrats ... by invoking executive privilege to prevent aides from testifying. Do the democrats have any recourse, and do voters care?

We will see what happens today, when Corey Lewandowski testifies to the House Judiciary Committee. He's their first person to testify in an impeachment inquiry, and the Trump administration is invoking executive privilege for those conversations, before and after he was president.

It's Amber. I got this question from a Twitter user that I'm putting in here, about the debate in Congress over background checks:  How would a background check work for a private gun sale? An app? A charge for the check? How often is it needed to buy a gun? More than once a year? What about within a family? Thanks

I think they would make it a crime to NOT do a background check? (Right now, it falls in this weird "you're supposed to ask, but you don't have to"). But I don't have all the policy details; it's a good question. Trump has considered an app to enhance existing background checks, but we've reported his aides and Capitol Hill folks have discouraged that idea, out of concern it would bring security issues with it (by being hackable).

Did they happen to mention what they would replace it with--for the millions who would then be left without insurance?

Yeah that's the harder part, right?

Is it being broadcast, or aired live online? Or is it behind closed doors?

Broadcast live! CSPAN is my go-to. All the major networks should carry the first few minutes, at least. And tune into The Fix for analysis of whatever we learn. It starts now, at 1pm Eastern.

Speaking of the Lewandowski hearing, I've got to go. Thanks for your great questions everyone! Talk next week!

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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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