Ask Amber from The Fix

Jun 11, 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?

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Here are some political stories I'm watching this week:

-There are 60 House Democrats who support impeachment. Buuut most of them are from liberal districts, which is why Nancy Pelosi isn't losing much sleep over this.

-BUT she did say in an interview today that impeachment is "not off the table." What would it take to get her there?

-Joe Biden is getting a lot of eyerolls for saying Republicans will come to their senses and work with Democrats in a post-Trump era.

-Who's on the Democratic debate stage in two weeks? In: Smaller candidate with cult followings like Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson. Out: The head of the National Governor's Association, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.

What are you curious about?

When Joe Biden talks of Republicans changing post Trump, is he just being naive and does he really believe that? After seeing what they did for 8 years while Obama was President, I see no indication that they will change.

So does this mean Gov. Steve Bullock is unlikely to become the Democratic Party nominee?

I wouldn't say that. But I do think missing the first debate stage makes it MUCH harder for him to get there. Of course if you look at his strengths, they match pretty closely with Joe Biden's. (Not from one of the coasts; making a pitch they can talk to (and win over) Trump voters.) So his path to victory is almost out of his hands regardless of what debate stage he's on, in that it would require Biden to slip up majorly. 

What did you do with Gene? I know you two have a rivalry in this time slot, but did it really have to come to this?

Don't ask questions you don't want to know the answer to ...

Hi Amber, Thanks for taking questions today. I love the live chats and know where to find the schedule for upcoming Washington Post chats. However, I can't find a schedule/calendar or sign-up for upcoming live streaming events, like the one I've seen advertised on the Washington Post about North Korea that's supposed to happen Wednesday morning at 9am. Do you have a link to a live events calendar or a place to sign up for alerts to upcoming events that will be streamed live on WaPo? Thank you.

Yes, great question! All our live events are here. It's a big and growing part of The Washington Post, so I'm glad you're paying attention. Lots of news gets made at these, and they're informative. I even got to interview a Trump DHS official for something about cybersecurity. 

Oooh, oooh, call on me, 'cause I know! It would take enough Republicans turning against Trump who'd vote for impeachment in the House, and conviction in the Senate.

Well, the pro-impeachers would argue she could get the votes in the House to impeach Trump without any (or most) Republicans on board. (Save Justin Amash, of course.)

And impeachment in the House would put an asterisk mark next to Trump's name in the history books, even if the Senate doesn't convict him.

Remember that bipartisan meeting when Obama was president and Obama told McCain that elections have consequences? Isn't there always friction between the parties?

Yeah, but I think Biden's point is that there is exceptional partisanship right now. I talked to people who were around during the last impeachment debate 20 years ago, and they agree with Biden on that part.

He was scheduled for cataract surgery this past Thursday. Anyone who has had that knows that the post-surgery eyedrops routine is specific and detailed. He probably has had little time to do anything but that--been there! We'll see him next week, I'm sure!

I wish him a speedy recovery! Lots of love from The Fix team, Gene!

He would absolutely love that *against his name in the history books. Of course he would wail about it whilst it was happening but in the longer term it would be in THE HISTORY BOOKS

Hm. That's an interesting thought. I know Trump, more than any other politician I've witnessed, believes that all attention is good attention. But impeachment? That might take things a bit too far for even him.

Let's say that for whatever reason Trump does not seek reelection. Who would make up the top three or four candidates to replace him as the GOP standard-bearer? Would any Trump children or in-laws be among that group?

Ooh, fun question.

Yeah, I think Ivanka Trump would be a natural fit. Probably someone from House or Senate GOP leadership, who have toed the Trump line for awhile now -- I'm thinking maybe Kevin McCarthy? Or maybe Trump's chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, a former member of Congress would run? Mike Pompeo, Trump's secretary of state?

Of course, if Trump didn't seek reelection, there are a number of Republicans who aren't fans of him I could see deciding to run. Justin Amash (instead of a third-party ticket like he's been pondering.) Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (who ruled out challenging Trump.) Former Ohio governor John Kasich. Former Arizona senator Jeff Flake. They've all expressed an interest in reshaping the Republican Party away from Trump.

Has anyone asked VP Biden what he knew about Russian interference in the 2016 election, when he became aware of it, and why the administration did nothing about it?

Not that I'm aware of, but that's not unusual. As vice president, election meddling would not have been in his portfolio.

and Democrats also retain a majority in the House. With the executive branch and one chamber of Congress in Democratic hands, do they pursue legal action against Trump for possible criminal charges, or would that be considered using the legal system to go after political enemies? Does Trump just get away with all the stuff he's done because Democrats won't want to look bad?

I think they would leave it up to the legal system and keep Congress out of it. Democrats in Congress I've privately spoken to say they have their eye on the Southern District of New York, which is investigating hush-money payments to women alleging affairs with Trump. But Aaron Blake walks through the reasons that prosecuting Trump after he's out of office is wishful thinking. (Say he wins another term -- gotta think about statute of limitations!) 

The problem with that scenario is that when the Senate doesn't vote to convict, then Trump will make major hay out of it in the 2020 campaign, and try to claim he'd been vindicated by the Senate, which would inspire his base to turn out en masse at the polls. I.e., it could backfire bigly.

Yeah, Nancy Pelosi is very worried that such a scenario would hand Trump a political victory. The counter argument to that is: Who cares? It’s less important for Trump to be removed from office than for Congress to be seen attempting to rebuke him for his behavior, I wrote yesterday, explaining this "history books" line of thinking to support impeachment.

History, Cornell Law Vice Dean Jens David Ohlin told me, will remember that “there was a contentious debate in the Senate during an impeachment trial where his lawyers were forced to defend his conduct. Historians will remember that, and it will be a black mark on his record.”

Can someone ask Uncle Joe to point to ONE example of GOP Good Sense during the eight years of the Obama Administration? You know, before the rise of Trump.

I'm sure he could come up with one, but your broader point -- that it's not immediately obvious what -- is a smart one.

What's her rationale here? Let Trump keep doing whatever he wants, always protected by the Senate/DOJ/SCOTUS? Subpoenas ignored, documents not handed over -- she seems to have no strategy for fighting back against Trump. This administration is making a mockery of our checks and balances and Pelosi seems OK with it.

That's one way to look at her refusal to consider impeachment. The other is this: Her main job is to keep her party's majority in the House of Representatives, and that will be won and lost in districts previously held by Republicans and won (or almost won) by Trump. Impeachment, she believes, is bad for those people's reelection chances.

Hi Amber, I'm watching Buttigieg's address in Indiana -- or rather, I'm watching Lee Hamilton introduce him as I'm typing this, and it's fun to see him charmingly enjoying the frequent outbursts of applause. Any thoughts from you on the speech's impact -- immediate or longer term? I'm glad to see foreign policy take its place in this campaign, especially given the circumstances with the current administration.

Hi! I haven't watched the address, so I don't have any immediate thoughts on it. But I will say that Buttigieg has proven quite capable of making headlines nearly every time he grabs a microphone, which is no small feat.

Does he have to finish in the top 2 or 3 in every contest?

Yes, at least. He does not benefit from the expectations game, where many people already see him as the front-runner, so anything less than winning Iowa or New Hampshire could be seen as a loss for him. (Note: The Post has not called him the front-runner, because even though he's leading in most polls, who knows how this race is going to play out.)

What are you thoughts on the electorate just getting tired of Trump and being "in your face" every day and how that could affect 2020.

Hm, good question. His tweets don't seem to carry the same oomph as they used to. Like when he went to Britain and said all those things about Meghan Markle and Brexit, didn't it feel like back home we all kinda shrugged? 

But that being said, I have NO idea how Americans' increasing ambivalence about all the controversies he causes will affect his reelection chances.

Chances the liberal wing of the Democratic House pushes to strip the Hyde amendment from appropriation bills this year to a government shutdown? 1%? 10% 25%

Low, I think. They've pushed for some of their priorities in past budget negotiations, but it's been when things are pretty low stakes. 

Unsure I feel about Tulsi Gabbard often getting let off the list of women presidential hopefuls? I mean if it's alright to leave her off the list because you disagree and/or dislike her record in public life and her policy proposals, why do they other women get an exception?

She's on our list!

And she's on the debate stage.

I know local isn't your beat, but do you have any thoughts about the Fairfax Chairman Democratic primary? The idea that one candidate filed an ethics complaint about another candidate and then pushed it hard in his campaign mail just burns me to no end. Obviously I didn't vote for the guy who filed the complaint.

Oh gosh, sorry, I don't. If I had more time, I'd look into this and give you my opinion.

I see our excellent local reporting team says to expect five new Democratic leaders in Fairfax County!

Pundits said Biden's best day of this campaign would be his first day. He proved them wrong with a bounce that endured for awhile. Now, the candidates are set, the debates are about to start, and Iowa votes in 8 months. Warren and Booker are building real apparatuses in the state. Warren is getting positive press for her hustle and siphoning support from Bernie and his bros. But what about Biden? His name recognition and ties to Obama will only carry him so far. Is he actually taking the steps to build a real campaign in the state?

Well, he's certainly not traveling nearly as much as the other candidates, nor doing as many public events.

But if he thinks he's the front-runner, does he need to put that much time in, his supporters argue? I don't know first hand, but I'd have to imagine he is building a pretty robust campaign infrastructure in key early voting states (Iowa, NH, SC, Nevada). To not to would be negligent. 

Does Trump's intransigence and escalating economic punishment of China in his trade war risk the possibility of actual war/violence in the future?

Oh goodness, I have not come across that concern in any of my reporting about this. China experts never rule out the possibility of some kind of military conflict with China (likely over Taiwan's sovereignty), but it's always been a far-off possibility, even now. 

Is Howard Shultz in witness protection? Where did he go?

To answer your question, I had to google his name to see what he's up to -- and I follow politics full time! It doesn't seem like he's running for president anymore ... 

You mentioned that questions submitted to the chats remain anonymous. Yet Fix Aaron has complained a couple of times recently about individuals who submit multiple questions to his chat and said he tries to avoid using questions from the same person. If questioners are anonymous, how would he know that one person was submitted multiple queries?

Good question! I, too, try to answer questions from as many different people as I can. But I have no idea WHO you are. How to square that? We can see unique IDs for each person submitting a question so we know the difference between question asker A versus B but we don't know who you are.

Any chance Hickenlooper, Bullock, Abrams, et. al., will reconsider and make a run for their respective Senate seats? Can all those running for prez REALLY think they have a shot?

That's a good question. I don't know what the odds are, but it's on my to-do list to look at filing deadlines in their respective states to see when they'd have to pull the plug on being president.

How's that working out for Bill Clinton? He's still revered in the Democratic Party (has been a featured speaker at every convention since) and his 20 year post presidency has been pretty remunerative thus far. Every time i hear people say i t will be a black mark against Trump, I see Bill and see think that maybe the historians aren't as influential as they think.

Fair point. Maybe it will make Trump a conservative hero for the next few decades. But 100 years from now, what will our half-robot-half-human ancestors remember about these presidents? "Impeachment" is in the first paragraph of Andrew Johnson's bio. 

Most/all of the Democratic Presidential candidates have criticized Trumps policies toward China, NK and Iran, but have not offered any alternatives that have shown to be effective in the past. Under 8 years of Obama-Biden we had ballooning trade deficits with China (plus the OPM hack that most forget about), multiple missile tests from NK, and expanding terrorists attacks supported by Iran.

Well, yeah, Team Trump argues the end results of all this will be worth the immediate economic pain/threat of North Korean missiles/threats of war with Iran. Time will tell.

I mean I get the situation is complex (accusations are not convictions and blah, blah), but are they just going to stick it out?

Seems like it. I don't think there's much the legislature can do about it.

His appointment drew derision in some quarters, but he is still in his cabinet post. Is he regarded as having done a good job, or is he following the Monty Python advice on the advantages of not being seen?

When you're a Trump Cabinet member (or any Trump nominee), no news is good news.

Quinnipiac Poll has O'Rourke behind Biden in Texas Democratic primary, but a Change Poll had O'Rourke up a lot in Texas primary. How do you read it when polls conflict (really hope it isn't differ to one that fits my narrative)?

Best bet is to average them -- Real Clear Politics does this well -- and know that polls capture this moment in time and don't predict what's going to come.

I'm most concerned with preventing Trump from winning another term.

The Democratic Party divide over impeachment, in two sentences ^

Bless you and WaPo for this. I'm already really, really tired of the agita over every single poll and who's "electable" or not.

On the "electable" front, it's such a subjective term -- but an important one this Democratic primary. It's one that Democrats are debating every day.

Could it be that Biden is just running a general election strategy? He can't possibly believe that the Republicans will just magically behave better in a Post-Trump environment.

I think he's doing exactly that, running as if he's already won the nomination. 

Is it possible that she is, in fact, a stronger nominee against Cornyn than Beto would be? Seems like her military background and overall bio are a better fit with the state - especially some of the GOP voters that she'd have to peel away. On a related note, I've read that Cornyn has a lower TX approval rating than Cruz. Why do you think that is?

I've wondered this too -- if MJ Hegar could run a strong campaign against Cornyn. But I think Senate Democratic strategists appreciate the name recognition O'Rourke has.

And re lower approval rating, I'm guessing here, but the conventional wisdom is that the longer you're in office, the more people have negative opinions about you. (That doesn't prevent them from winning, though! See: Harry Reid.)

Any chance massive flooding in the Midwest and the subsequent hit to farmers economic well being plays against Trump in 2020?

I have yet to see climate change rank among top issues for Republican voters. But I wonder where it stands on independents, or those elusive (and hard-to-pin-down) Obama-Trump voters? Good question.

It's certainly reshaping (and politicizing) disaster aid bills in Congress.

Any signs of foreign interference in the democratic primary, whether in disinformation campaigns or other activity? Could see that creating a politically challenging situation if the democratic candidate was plausibly (or even potentially) helped by a foreign power, creating a false equivalence with Trump.

That's hard to pin down, but it's a good question, and you can bet there are FBI officers watching this like a hawk. Congress, too.

to be they would be our descendants.

I have this theory our great great great great grandkids will just be born with an iphone for their left hand.

I'd say the sheen of Clinton's presidency has really worn away, over the past four years especially.

Well, in the post-#MeToo era, there is a lot about it that Democrats are re-assessing. 

Blake shared a list of things he learned from the last few years re covering politics. Have you done the same reflection and do you have such a list?

That's a good idea. I've done that for Congress after the first year of Trump's presidency --- but not for politics in general. I've only been writing about national politics for four years now, so you could say I've come of political age in the Trump era. 

Off the top of my head, I've learned two things:
1) Predictions are useless
2) All the old rules and conventional wisdom about the Way Things Work can be off the mark, too.

Thanks for all your great questions! See ya'll next Tuesday, same time same place.

In the meantime, we're all writing our fingers off at The Fix. I'm in your inbox every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon with The 5-Minute Fix newsletter. And Aaron Blake chats here on Fridays at 12 Eastern. Have a great 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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