Ask Amber from The Fix

May 21, 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. I'll be live chatting at 12 Eastern, so join me! If you can't, get your question in now and come back to this link anytime to see if I've answered it.

Here's what I'm watching:
Is the dam breaking for Nancy Pelosi on impeachment?

How does a high-profile no-show, in former White House lawyer Donald McGahn, who defied a House subpoena today, change the impeachment dynamic in the Democratic Party?

Are 2020 Democrats like Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris making a mistake by not going on Fox News?

How tribal is the Republican response to Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) being open to impeachment? (And how much will this change Pelosi's position, if at all?)

What are you curious about?

Thanks for taking questions, Amber. For now a judge has ruled that the administration has to comply with House subpoenas and Trump spins this as an Obama-appointed-judge who has it in for him. Does he not understand/care that what he is actually saying is that the justice system will only be fair when it rules in his favor? The same way he treats the media: it is "biased" when negative towards him or his actions and "fair" when positive. And the same with the Mueller report: great when it supposedly "exonerates" him, but bad talk of a group of angry dems when it describes instances of obstruction. He can´t have it both ways. Does his base really not see this for what it is: utter disregard for any check on his person. It is simply dangerous even if you would agree with his policies.

Thanks for asking your question! 

I think this is classic Trump -- you're with him, or or you're against him, no matter the institution. He's been that way since day one, so I don't think his latest coloring of the world in black and white will change the way his base sees him. He's succeeded in making the Republican Party remarkably tribal

And while I think we mostly agree that he has no chance, who out there is most like Franken? I think that Al is exactly what America needs to combat the current administration. Or, someone like him - sense of humor, media savvy, knows politics - and most importantly, how to get things done - be it as a lone wolf or working with the other side.

Good question. Al Franken's got this loyal, almost cult following -- even after essentially being kicked out of the Senate over groping allegations -- that seems super specific to him, for the reasons you just outlined. I don't know who can recreate that. I think Beto O'Rourke is trying (though I am sure he did not have Franken in his mind)

Who wins the argument for the primary? Progressives like Kamala or centrists like Mayor Pete? For what it's worth I'm guessing someone like Kamala Harris and Democrats lose the general.

I think this is THE question facing Democrats right now in the primary. How progressive do they want to be, and do they fear that will hurt their chances against Trump, who won Democratic-leaning conservatives in 2016 in swing states like Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania? The Post's Cleve Wootson Jr. gets at this in a story today where he talks to black voters about whether they want to go with their head or their heart.

That's my entire question. Why?

Why not?

That's my attempt to get into his head -- and any other number of Democrats running for president who have a way to climb to be in the top tier.

As of now, de Blasio and three other candidates are at risk of missing the debate stage in June. 

A one off or a crack in the dam?

For now, his openness to impeachment of Trump seems like a one-off on the Republican side. Some of his closest friends are telling my Post colleagues that they disagree with him. 

"When you quote me, just make sure people understand I disagree," said Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.)

Hi Amber -- thanks for taking questions today and for chatting. Your colleagues' piece on Trump's need to insert himself into every conversation, political or not, was spot on, though I think "narrator" is a bit too charitable -- "buttinsky" is more like it (betraying my political views here). I for one find it exhausting, and my guess is anyone who is not part of the "base" feels the same. (I leave next weekend on a trip to Europe and I fully expect him to weigh in on my packing choices and itinerary.) Here's my question -- looking into your crystal ball, how will it the change the presidency in the future? Personally, I really just want a president to govern and to lead, so I can't wait for a return to the "normal," but I wonder if that is even possible. The "old way" almost feels nostalgic at this point.


It depends on how you define the "old way" of being presidential. In terms of social media, I don't think we're ever going back to a president who communicates mostly through the traditional avenues of a press secretary and issuing statements. Even members of Congress issue statements via Twitter now a days. 

I don't think the next president is going to be quite as HONEST as Trump has been about how he feels about the world. Courts have cited his tweets against him, particularly on the travel ban!

Is not a centrist. he ahs big issues with the African American vote in the South especially older African American females

I've gotten a couple commenters saying something to this effect -- taking issue with a questioner's characterization that Buttigieg is a centrist and Harris a progressive.

I think that underscores how fluid the 2020 primary is right now. With some exceptions, there aren't direct lanes anymore -- progressives over here, centrists over here. Each candidate is pretty hard to pin down. What, for example, do you call Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who's basically making his campaign about climate change? Or Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who is governing in a Trump state but who supports a public option for health care?

Hi Amber, Biden/Harris.... I would be so into that combination. Harris is young enough to counter-act the age question. And pitting her against Mike Pence would be classic. Any chance you think?

It could happen -- just like any combo could happen!

Throwing this out here as a conversation starter, from my Fix colleague Eugene Scott: Kamala Harris isn't running for vice president. So why do people keep saying she'd be a great No. 2?

Amber, it seems like most of the hemming and hawing on the Dems' side is mainly due to whether an impeachment inquiry will help Trump and hurt the Dems. Do you think this is a big part of Speaker Pelosi's thinking? I envision Trump getting even more unhinged in the face of impeachment, to the point where more in the GOP will feel they need to step off the train before it crashes.

Absolutely politics is the reason Pelosi is hesitant to impeach Trump, even if she lets on that she thinks he deserves it. A majority of Americans don't support impeachment even if most think Trump lied, a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll finds.

Who do you think Trump would have the most difficulty debating?

I've spent much of the live chat thinking how I'd answer your question. It's a tough one, because the general election debates between Hillary Clinton and Trump were so tough for Clinton to balance. Go high when he's going so, so low? Deal with him hovering over her? Fact check him when he throws out falsehoods, or just focus on your own policy points? As you can tell by my meandering, I still don't know which candidate Trump would have the most difficulty debating, because I don't think anyone knows how to debate Trump!

I think Pelosi's (very savvy, might I add) plan is to give Trump enough rope to hang himself even in the eyes of House (and Senate) Republicans.

Maybe that's what she meant when she said earlier this month that he's “becoming self-impeachable."

But Senate Republicans? I super doubt it.

Saw an article and column in the Post about Trump and using nicknames. Is the media over focusing on them or are they just too much catnip? If catnip, why aren't more Democrats responding? Bill Maher's "Brokahauntus" was pretty funny.

I think this gets at the "go low or go high" against Trump debate raging in the party now.

Also, I'm nibbling at my lunch while I type and for some reason "cat nip" made me hungry. Is that weird? That's weird, right. I swear I'm not secretly a cat.

She can't win the top slot. You can be a black female Democrat and win but you add California native to that and specifically San Fransisco and she loses the EC. Not saying fair but am saying true.

I have lots of thoughts about how gender bias is shaping the 2020 primary! Doesn't get at your statement about the general election and electoral college, but I will be examining research on voters' views about women as executives as the race goes on. Stay tuned.

Isn't McGahn a private citizen? How can Trump order him not to testify? And doesn't this automatically rise to the level of obstruction of justice?

Dunno about whether this rises to the level of obstruction of justice, but you're right that Trump can't really order his FORMER White House counsel to skip out on a congressional subpoena compelling his testimony today. Still, McGahn made his own decision with pressure from Trump in the background.

Also problematic with Trump's "No McGahn testify" position is that he has, in the past, allowed Mcgahn's testimony to be part of investigations -- like a little thing called the Mueller report.

Doesn't that end a both a big fundraising device and talking point for GOP candidates/politicians and at the same time create a bunch of problems/political risks they don't have now? Abortion seems like one of those things that's more useful to them as a weapon against liberals than a victory with all it's attendent risks.

Maybe, but I think if you oppose abortion, getting it outlawed is a bigger reward than any ability to activate a donor list. This is the social battle of how many generations, now?

For the sake of argument, let's stipulate that Nancy Pelosi is right and any hearings about possible, or actual, impeachment, are bad for Democrats with voters in 2020 . Let's also stipulate that due to the Presidents obstructive behavior an impeachment inquiry is likely unavoidable in the near future. Put on your consulting cap and inform us how to hold the hearings in such a way as to minimize that damage in 2020 voters, or , if anything were possible, even help Democratic chances. Thanks!

I touched on this a little bit this morning, writing: 

Democratic leaders are wary of the political blowback from such a move, given polls show a majority of Americans don’t support impeachment, even though most think the president lied. Beginning an impeachment inquiry is like dipping their toes in the water without committing to a swim. They don’t have to actually hold a vote on whether to impeach the president.

All of that may be a distinction without a difference for Trump, though, who is casting congressional Democrats as overzealous investigators bent on destroying him politically. (That gets more difficult to do now that a Republican member of Congress is open to impeachment proceedings.)

Pelosi knows how Trump would play any kind of impeachment inquiry. She knows there are political risks for Democrats that come from even considering impeachment proceedings. That’s been the glue she’s used to build a dam against impeachment calls in her party. But now, that may be breaking.

and partnership of a former White House employee along the lines of, "talk and you'll never work in this town again," isn't witness tampering? Does it matter that it was done in public? Does that mean that it is automatically not considered serious? Seems odd as a legal argument.

I think things Trump has said in public have been used against him -- his tweets and campaign statements on the travel ban. His public beration of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. His ridiculing of Mueller's team. So, no, doing things out in the public sphere don't negate any legal risk the president might face. But I also am not a lawyer or prosecutor and don't know if any efforts to get McGahn to ignore a congressional subpoena rises to a crime.

I type this, yet I also hate how much time is devoted to this subject, but Elizabeth Warren not doing a Fox News on-air town hall seems a lot like her no big-donor fundraising pledge. It's only for the primary, right? Why is it so wrong for the primary yet fine for the general?

This seems more principled than that. I don't imagine she'd back down on her Fox News ban if she was a nominee. Now, is she making a mistake? For that I have my Fix colleagues Aaron Blake and Eugene Scott to ponder it. As I summarized in Monday's 5-Minute Fix newsletter:  

Their decision to ban the network is a controversial one in a Democratic Party that wants to win back the Democratic-leaning Trump voters. Polling suggests they might be making a mistake, writes The Fix’s Aaron Blake: “According to Suffolk University polling, 32 percent of viewers who most trust Fox News said in March that they were excited for Joe Biden to run for president.”

But, argues The Fix’s Eugene Scott, is Fox News the only way to reach out to these voters? “Trump-supporting Fox viewers are adults capable of making their own decisions, including diversifying their media consumption.”

having done the campaign and seeing the WH, what's the biggest difference?

I've never run for president, but I've watched a couple people who have. And my answer is: Congress! 

You can promise all you want on the campaign trail, but you can't deliver unless you know how to win over Congress. Trump's struggled with that, even when Republicans controlled both chambers.

Forgot to ask this. What do you think of the name?

Yes, very important question!

Let me be diplomatic about it: I'm glad they found a name they both like.

I also wonder if we're watching the Freakonomics theory of naming kids in action -- that celebrities and the upper crust of society lead the way on name trends. Louis. Archie. These are old school names but in a much different way than, say, George. Will we see the next Kardashian baby follow this trend and be named Egert, or something?

Hey, In the coverage I've seen, Pete's comment in his town hall about "meeting voters where they are at" is cut off after he mentions Fox News. And then it's framed as "people who go on Fox to reach out to all voters" vs "those who are just focused on the base". But Buttigieg goes on to say that he means visiting people where they are "whether that's viewership of Fox News or geographically" and that it was important to do so "without compromising our values." Which, with Warren visiting West Virginia and so forth, seems like a pretty big hole in the framing of where people in the party are at. Is it just me noticing this? Am I crazy here?

I'm sorry, I've read this question over a couple times and I still don't understand it - nor how to answer it without seeing the coverage you're referring to.

Are you suggesting Warren is hypocritical when she refuses to go on Fox News but will campaign in Trump states? I think she would argue that her issue isn't with Trump voters, but with Fox News.

Can you explain politics to me? It this just a causal conversation where tells NYT Beto ought to run for Senate without any other motive? Seems like if he truly wanted him to do this, he'd just call him up rather than telling the NYT. If Reid cares that much about the U.S. Senate seat from Texas, why did he do nothing for him during the midterms and never did anything for Texas recruitment and party building during his time as Majority Leader. Reid is pretty overt in the press in his unofficial support of Elizabeth Warren so should what he is saying about her opponent be taken as not totally objective?

Yeah I think Harry Reid was giving O'Rourke a little shade there -- that before O'Rourke ran for president, Reid wanted him to run for Senate instead. So far Reid is staying neutral in the primary, but feel free to read between the lines on who he really supports. I don't have an informed opinion on that, but I do know that some Reid folks are now in Warren world and she has a strong campaign presence in Nevada already.

Can he be disbarred or otherwise sanctioned if he is held in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with their supoena?

Probably. Daily fines might come first.

They could also try to put him in jail -- if the Justice Department under AG Barr won't comply, they could theoretically hold him somewhere in Congress!

Do you have someone choose the chat questions for you? How are they chosen?

Just me scrolling through them. I do try to answer questions from a variety of readers, on as many variety of topics as possible, assuming I know or can reasonably quickly find out the answer. But -- and thanks for this -- I get more questions than I can answer in an hour.

Given all of the difficulties involved in debating Trump (how does one refute 5 lies in 2 minutes), would it make sense for the Democratic nominee, whoever he or she may be, to simply not debate. Decline all invitations, and simply campaign.

Hm, interesting strategy. My first thought is to wonder whether it would backfire by making the Dem nominee seem petty. There are no easy answers here for Democrats!

If the candidate wins, it's wasn't a mistake.

Ya I guess we'll find out, right? Though not sure we could attribute the eventual nominee's win to Fox town halls or lack of Fox town halls 

If a federal judge has ordered a CPA firm to hand over the records chances are they will do so, correct? Otherwise it is a huge ethics violation and could result in the firm losing their licenses? Does Trump understand that?

Yeah Mazars has told Congress they want to comply with this subpoena. They're going to comply with however the courts rule, I'd assume. So far, so good for House Democrats.

Attorney General Barr has appointed federal prosecutor John Durham to look into what led up to the Russia probe. Department of Justice IG Horowitz is also doing an investigation. Can you explain how one's job is different from the other?

This is a good question that I don't immediately know the answer to. The inspector general of the Justice Department looks inward at an agency -- but so, would it seem, does this federal prosecutor. 

OP here. I definitely am not anti-female. Old enough to remember being told the guy in the cube next to me doing the same job made more moola because "he" had a family to support. I just really don't know if in 2019 we have really gotten past gender bias. My MIL just who passed a few years ago wouldn't even go see a female dentist.

Yeah this is a common thing I hear from Democrats on the campaign trail: I'd support a woman for president, but I dunno if my neighbor would.

Do you know if the NY legislature passed and the governor signed the bill that would allow them to release Trump's state tax docs? If they did, how long until Congress has access to them?

Good question. Looks like they're still working on it, tweaking it to make sure Congress can get Trump's state tax returns.

In a 2019 Marist poll only 15% say they support 'anytime abortion'. Polls also show that young Americans (perhaps because of being able to see what happens during gestation via sonograms) support recognizing the heartbeat as a sign of life. Do you think it would behoove Dems to say (as they once did) that abortion should be 'safe, legal and rare' rather than talking about it as they do now?

I think some of them are trying to use that language when talking specifically about late-term abortions, like Buttigieg did Sunday in New Hampshire at a Fox News town hall. 

Kamala Harris has no children of her own. I wish it weren't so, but I can't help thinking that will make female voters, especially, less comfortable with her. Your thoughts?

Oh yes I have thoughts. I wrote this in 2017: Want to run for office? Be prepared to address voters' concerns about it.

Female candidates have to balance having kids or not having kids way more carefully than men do in the political sphere.

Harris as #2!

Haha, sharing

Could Trump have ordered him arrested, or otherwise detained? If so, by the FBI, the Secret Service, or whom?

I don't think so, but the fact we are even considering talking about Congress jailing former WH officials or Trump arresting his former WH counsel highlights how we are in very, very weird territory with this Congress vs. Trump battle.

The federal prosecutor can investigate those who no longer work for the government.

Ah, that makes sense.

Will Quinn Anne be attending your birthday party?

Hi 5-Minute Fix reader! (Yesterday was my birthday, which I announced in the newsletter.) She was indeed at my birthday party. Lots of drool and rolling around on the floor and biting off the head of Sophie the Giraffe. 

Okay, I've gotta run, but thanks as always for your smart questions. I know I left a lot unanswered, so save them for Aaron Blake on Friday at 12, or send them to me for The 5-Minute Fix newsletter, or see y'all her next week. Bye!

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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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