Ask Amber from The Fix

Apr 23, 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?

Happy Tuesday! After a diaper-change, nursery-rhyme-filled hiatus, I'm back for the first time since before the midterm elections. I miss my baby girl, but chatting with you all is one of my favorite parts of the job.

If you're new to this chat, welcome! I write about politics for The Fix, a nonpartisan blog at The Washington Post analyzing the day's biggest political stories. I also write an afternoon newsletter, The 5-Minute Fix, synthesizing the day's biggest political news. It's free and comes in your inbox every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons.

I focus most of my time on Congress, but I'm happy to answer (or try to answer) any question you have about politics. 

Here are some story lines I'm curious about today:

What, if anything, will change Democratic leaders' opinions that the political risks of impeaching Trump are greater than the political risks of not trying to impeach Trump?

What are the most fruitful House investigations into Trump beyond impeachment?

Why Pete Buttigieg is having a moment

The legal battle for Congress to get the unredacted Mueller report

What are you curious about?

We missed you

I'll take the easy question first. Thank you! I missed y'all too.

Hoping all is well for you and your family. If you want to could tell us about the little one but totally understandable if that is too personal. Ok, as of now who are your top three/four to make it thru the primary. Remember "as of now". Won't hold you to it.

Thanks! I'll share a bit:

Her name is Quinn Anne, she was born in early November after being two weeks late and putting me through a 40-hour labor. But now that she's in the world, she loves it. She's almost six months old, never met a face she hasn't smiled at and lets me get about six hours of sleep a night -- a luxury compared to the two-hour schedule we were on at first.
(I still can't watch those commercials for comforters and sheets, though, where the parents wake up in a sunny room looking refreshed and decide to stay in bed.)

And because you stress the "as of now" part of your Dem 2020 question, I'll answer it:

Pete Buttigieg: I think he has an organic groundswell of support across the Democratic political spectrum that is impressive. 

Bernie Sanders: He knows how to (almost) win a Democratic primary, and I think he's smart to reach out to Trump voters -- if only to argue to Democrats that he is electable.

Kamala Harris: She's got the most potential to reach African American voters, a key coalition for the party

I remember you used to rave about breakfast tacos. I was in Santa Fe about a month ago and tried some. You were so right!

Here's how good the breakfast tacos you probably had are: As a Texan, I will willingly admit that New Mexico has the better Mexican-American food. Especially during hatch chili season

Trump's margin of victory was 107,000 votes in three midwestern states. How is impeachment going to win the Democrats more voters in states where most people care more about jobs and health care?

On this, you and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) agree. She’s trying to set the guardrails for her party going into 2020, and along those lines she's urged her vulnerable Democrats to focus on “kitchen-table issues.” “Like a jackhammer: lower health-care costs, bigger paychecks, cleaner government,” she said recently.

(Her quotes are from this story I wrote recently about House democrats' impeachment dilemma)

Hi Amber. Dead-tree subscriber here, suffering from news fatigue. So I'd like to ask you: what political story has you most intrigued these days? Is it one of the usual suspects like the Mueller report or the 2020 Dem primary? Or maybe something less high-profile but equally interesting?

Hi fellow dead-tree subscriber!

Good question. Whether House Democrats will impeach Trump and who will win the 2020 presidential race are obviously HUGE political questions, as big as it gets.

But if you want a breather from that, I'd focus on the House investigations into Trump's business practices before he was president. The House Oversight Committee is looking into whether Trump inflated his net worth to, say, get a loan to try to buy the Buffalo Bills football team, or deflated it to dodge real estate taxes. They are thisclose to getting financial documents that could show whether he committed bank fraud.

Hi Amber -- so great to have you back! Hope your time away was wonderful. In the midst of the back and forth the Democrats are having about impeachment, I saw a Republican activist (and never Trumper) posit this on MSNBC last night: one of the goals of impeachment, even if it doesn't result in conviction, is if nothing else to shame the person being impeached by getting their terrible behavior on the record in a big public way for all to see. However, as he's shown time and again, Trump is incapable of being shamed, so it's a waste of time and the next day it'll be business as usual (and will just incite the base, etc. etc.). What do you make of that argument? Do you think that is entering into the Democrats' calculations at all?

Thanks for the love!

I think the argument "Trump can't be shamed so why bother trying to impeach him" misses the point of what pro-impeachers are arguing. They're not necessarily arguing they should do this to punish Trump. They are arguing that Congress should go on the record for future presidents to say this kind of behavior isn't cool. 

Cornell Law Vice Dean Jens David Ohlin is just one of several legal experts I've spoken to who argue Congress has a historical imperative to act. Congress, he argues, could "say this conduct is unacceptable, and there is going to be an asterisk in Trump's name in history books." 

Welcome back! We have missed you. Thanks for taking questions :-)

Another easy question! (Seriously, thanks for going easy on me today, ya'll. I missed A LOT while I was gone.)

Does it look like House Democrats are going to hold "Just the Facts" Hearings and not a full Impeachment Hearing for now? Is there a proper nmae for it?

If Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders had their way, that's exactly what House Democrats would do. Impeachment by another name -- investigations. "We don't have to go to articles of impeachment to obtain the facts," she told House Democrats on Monday.

My colleague Philip Bump points out that Pelosi may be thinking of the Benghazi investigation model that House Republicans used during the 2016 election to raise questions about Hillary Clinton. Setting up a special investigation dedicated to one topic was an effective messaging tool without the significant political baggage "impeachment" brings.

Amber, It's great to read your writing again and a very welcome event to see you hosting this chat! Hope all is well with your family. Welcome back!

Many thanks. Life as a parent is awesome -- why didn't anyone tell me this sooner?!

We missed you even though the political scene was so quiet for the last several months (LOL). What are the odds that Congress actually gets Trump's tax info? Why do you think he is so protective of the returns - something to hide or just paranoia?

I have on my to-do list a look at the legal fight to get Trump's tax returns. So, I don't yet know what the odds are. But I think it's fair to wonder why Trump has fought SO hard to keep his tax returns secret. To me, this raises the same question at the heart of the Mueller report: Did Trump intend to stop the Mueller probe because he had something to hide, or because he was "frustrated" as Attorney General Barr put it, that there was an investigation into his actions. Sometimes I get the sense that Trump is legitimately thrown off by how much scrutiny into his personal life being president brings. 

Welcome back! It seems to me that the REAL impact of the Mueller Report lies in the redacted portions pertaining to grand jury processes, because the Mueller Report does NOT bring an end to grand jury investigations. These could still result in further indictments in various jurisdictions (including state ones, where Trump has no pardoning power), which in turn could lead to further trials and convictions, or at least guilty pleas.

I think there is plenty of danger for Trump in the known Mueller report. Democrats are seriously considering impeachment proceedings!

But you're correct that one tantalizing reason AG Barr blacked out grand-jury information is for ongoing investigations. We don't know what those are yet nor how or when they could make themselves known. But you're correct in assuming that even though the centralized Mueller investigation is done, other spin-off investigations remain ongoing.

What! What! Amber Fix is in the house.

Being a working mom is an adjustment, but I'm happy to be here!

I think you're originally from Texas, right? I am still a bit in shock over U.S. Senate race last year. As somebody involved in state party politics, I find two common received wisdom from out of state irksome. One is that O'Rourke should have just run again for U.S. Senate in 2020 since it forgets Joaquin Castro. U.S. Rep. Castro was not going to defer if O'Rourke also got in so he save us some troublesome primary by not getting into the race and Texas Democrats know that. Two is how a lot of out-of-state people who supported O'Rourke to the hilt are retconning as if "Well I only supported him because he was good enough for Texas" as they don't hear how totally insulting that sound in Texas. Urgh, sorry for the rant and just finish off by also mentioning I'm glad you're back and appreciate you taking the time for a chat.

I am originally from Texas. Anecdotally, I was surprised by how many young(ish) people who I didn't know to be involved in politics, let alone vote for Democrats, were out there voting for and campaigning for Beto O'Rourke. But you're right, the Texas Democratic party has to find a way to capture that energy without O'Rourke in the race. (Looks like they've found a challenger to John Cornyn. It's way too early to say that race is competitive, but it's worth watching.)

And I've been wondering -- I don't have the answer -- why Buttigieg has sucked up much of the "young, interesting candidate" energy in the presidential race that I think O'Rourke thought he was going to capture.

He is opposite of Trump. Intelligent, thoughtful, well spoken, educated. Normal

I put a call out to 5-Minute Fix newsletter readers to tell me why they like Buttigieg, and I heard that a lot. I was reading The Economist (so I can't take credit for putting this comment on American politics so concisely), but Americans like to swing from one extreme in the White House to another. That's another reason I think Buttigieg will be around for awhile.

Did you finally manage to take over his timeslot permanently?

I think his chat is still going on! Maybe he's off today? 

Many of the questioners in last nights CNN town hall, in addition so many of the reporters covering the race appear to have Ivy League, prep school/private college backgrounds. Do you know of anyone with a working class/1st generation college background who works for a major media outlet? If not, how do you think this lack affects the coverage?

Absolutely there are reporters covering national politics with a less-privileged background. But does journalism need more diversity, in all possible definitions of that word? Absolutely. 

I don't really understand the notion that impeachment should be off the table so the Dems can talk about other things the voters care about instead. Why can't they do both?

I think the concern is that impeachment will, understandably, suck up much of the news -- and give Republicans challenging Democrats (and Trump) something to talk about. 

Gov. Hogan is a party guy through and through. Why would he make noises about challenging his party leader? One suggestion is that there's a Md. Senate seat open in 2022, and this ups his profile for that. What do you think?

Hm. I think his profile in Maryland is already pretty high -- he's won two statewide elections. If he decides to challenge Trump, it would be precisely because he's "a party guy." He doesn't like the direction the Republican Party is going under Trump and wants to be a counterweight 

Not a question but a comment: I live in Cedar Rapids, IA. We have about 30 friends that we absolutely know voted for Trump, of those, 27 have said they are thoroughly disgusted with him and there is no chance they will vote for him again. For the most part they voted from Trump because of Hillary and her "baggage." Of the three that will still vote, 2 are adamantly anti-abortion and one is the wife of a chiropractor who says their business was ruined by Obamacare - she is also a member of the LDS Church and thinks that the border is being overrun with MS-13. She also is the least educated of the 30 friends. Not sure this counts for much, but we are in Abby Finkenaur's district and she defeated the encumbent republican by substantial numbers. 3 of the 4 congresscritters in the state are Dems and 2 are women, both women elected for the first time.

Interesting, thanks for sharing. I've heard from some Trump voters that they don't necessarily like him, but that they could never vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights. It's vintage American political dividing lines

Don't let the doting grandparents pronounce her name "Queen Anne".

Too late. Do you know how many Easter baskets that girl got this weekend?!

People keep saying it will take forever, but there are zero facts at issue in this case. It is just an argument based on what the law says. To me, this means that things could proceed fairly quickly. There is no reason for a judge to give everyone 6 months or 12 months or 24 months for the discovery phase. The legal stuff isn't that complicated either.

My *initial* undertanding of the legal battle for Trump's tax returns is that Congress's case rests on whether they are requesting them for a legitimate, legislative reason. Democrats in Congress -- this is the purview of the House Ways and Means Committee -- seem to think they've dotted their "i's" by asking for Trump's tax returns to assess how the IRS audits presidents. 

Welcome back! Now that the President has taken replacing Obamacare off the table, what if anything is on the Senate agenda, and for that matter the House? Jobs, infrastructure, anything?

Well, Trump only took replacing Obamacare off the table because Senate Republicans -- like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) -- told him to. That's notable.

And I think the answer is: confirming judges. That's what motivates McConnell more than anything else these days. He's been enormously successful at it, and he sees the long game that turning federal courts conservative has a more lasting effect than most legislation.

I would like to use your forum to ask Democratic candidates to not make the same mistake Republicans did - but to work among themselves to help self-select the best candidates to us. Now is not the time to let personal ambition cloud their judgment but to step down when they start to realize they aren't the right candidate for the job at hand.

Request aired. But I don't think the 19-and-counting candidates (Joe Biden could make 20 this week) have heard you.

Say Congress finds evidence of Trump's bank fraud. then what is the next step? Is this a state as well as a federal crime? indictable? what about tax fraud?

Congress doesn't have indictment powers. That's the realm of the Justice Department. Would Attorney General Barr agree to bring charges? Would he have to if Congress found direct evidence of a crime being committed? Would it be within the statute of limitations?

Congress is by definition a political body, and the most likely impact of any of their investigations into Trump will be in the political realm. 

It actually doesn't lean on that at all. There is no exception for releasing the returns if the executive branch thinks the reason isn't legitimate. There is no conditional language in the statute at all. It just says the Commissioner "shall" turn them over. Treasury can fight over what "shall" means if they want, but there isn't much to fight about.

Hm, my understanding is different -- that Congress does have the right to acquire Trump's tax returns, even with the "shall" language. There's a century-old law that says the chair of the House's main tax-writing committee can request ANY American's returns from the IRS.

I think his coming so close to unseating Ted Cruz says more about what people think about Cruz and less about what Beto had to offer.

I think that's entirely possible.

Thank you for the shout-out for our great food here in New Mexico. We usually don't refer to it as "Mexican-American" food, rather the simpler "New Mexican" food. In fact, if you are driving around New Mexico and see a sign that says "Authentic New Mexican Food" Stop! It will be phenomenal.

Yeah, I meant "Mexican-American" food to encompass all the cuisines in the Southwest that have Mexican roots. New Mexican food is the best. (Texas second!). 

Mail me some dehydrated hatch chilis in August?

When do they launch?

Bullock: Possibly soon, if he's still considering it. (I haven't heard otherwise.)

I think it's possible Stacey Abrams decides to run for Senate in Georgia in 2020. 

Impeachment is a political process, not a legal one. Right now, majority political support isn't there for impeachment proceedings. If the public opinion on that ever changes then Democrats should revisit the topic.

Totally agree that impeachment is a political process. That's why Mueller ultimately decided to punt this to Congress, he felt his investigation couldn't quite establish Trump broke the law but he clearly thought Trump did something wrong.

The argument I've heard from legal experts and pro-impeachers is that Democrats can't afford to wait for public opinion to come around to them. Impeachment is political, and divisive and costly for the lawmakers undertaking it, but it serves a role in protecting democracy. 

What sort of options does the House have to compel testimony and obtain documents, since they don't have their own police force/army?

Good questions. They can issue subpoenas, and if people don't comply, they can ask a judge to force that person to comply or risk going to jail. But the actual enforcement is out of their hands, which could make things difficult if, say, they want to subpoena Attorney General Barr. (Who has already agreed to talk to Congress in early May.)

What you said is what I said. There is nothing to fight about other than trying to claim that shall doesn't mean shall. Which will lose in court.

This conversation has motivated me to do a tax-fight explainer ASAP. 

Not for the chat, but did you know Wegmans gets them in fresh in the fall? Usually one weekend deal until they are gone. Enjoy!

Life.Changing. Also, I love Wegmans

Which laws you see Pelosi and her majority passing to flood the republican controlled senate to show the difference in productivity on issues that matter to the people?


Now this is a question that would make Pelosi very happy, as opposed to the impeachment talk that is dominating politically inclined water coolers across the country.

Her answer is clear: Health care costs (like lowering prescription drug costs), jobs and good government. (The first bill the House passed under Democratic control was an anti-corruption bill.) Those are the policies she believes will help Democrats win total control of Washington next year.

But what are the chances the state of NY comes up with charges while Trump is still in office?

Lucky for you I'm staying late to answer so many good questions.

I think there are Trump-related investigations being carried out in New York that are worth watching, even if we don't know exactly what those are. Legal experts have pointed out to me that Trump can't pardon someone charged with a crime by a state instead of the federal government. But if these are federal cases, Attorney General Barr technically has say over all of them. 

I thought Congress did have it's own police force. Or is the Capitol police something else. Can't they have the Sargent at Arms lock the person in contempt of Congress in the basement or something?

They have Capitol police to protect the lawmakers within the halls of Congress.

Also, draaamaa! 

Okay I'd love to stay and chat but I've got to go make food for my baby (I bow down to all moms who have pumped at work; it's no-joke hard). Thanks for all your great questions and for the warm welcome back. I'll see ya'll on The Fix every day, in your inboxes with The 5-Minute Fix every MWF and here every 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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