Ask Amber from The Fix

Jun 25, 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 for a big week in politics. The first 2020 Democratic presidential debates are Wednesday and Thursday. 

Here's what I'm watching:

At the debates, who goes after Joe Biden? (Actually, who doesn't go after Joe Biden, even if you're not on a stage with him?)


How do a record number of women on stage change the debate dynamic? (A debate coach told me she recommends they interrupt a man.)

Also, I'm not sure this is a huge scandal or anything, but The Post's Matt Viser smartly details how "middle class Joe" is actually a millionaire.

Which 2020 candidates want to take away your student loan debt?

Off of the 2020 race, is Trump now threatening to bomb Iran again?

Nearly 80 House Democrats want to open an impeachment proceeding into Trump, which is higher than it was last week ,and the week before that, and the week before that ... The list keeps growing. 

And Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has a Democratic challenger. Her 2020 reelection could be a fight, and the Senate race to watch. 

What are you curious about? 

Someone needs to point out that the only logical inference from this reply is that Trump DOES have a type that he WOULD sexually assault. Ugh. Just Ugh.

Yeah, I don't think that's the only logical interference from Trump's comments about his latest accuser, E. Jean Carroll. But it certainly was a distasteful, even dehumanizing response to a victim. 

Did Beto just throw a Hail Mary interception?

It's too soon for Hail Marys, but he certainly wants us to be talking about him and his ideas ahead of Wednesday and Thursday's debates. Did it work? we're talking about his idea to tax families who don't have members in the military.

With the caveat that I haven't covered O'Rourke, this also feels uncharacteristic for him to come out with such a bold, out-there proposal. Much of his stuff has been pretty in line with the rest of the Democratic field. 

Hi Amber -- thanks for taking questions today. And yet another woman comes forward, and yet again, a collective yawn can be heard around the globe (or at least in the U.S.). Is it fair to say that when it comes to this issue Trump is pretty much Teflon, as depressing as that is (at least to me?) Is it a case of the cake already having been baked and then some?

I've been curious about this very question. I was just on the phone today with Kelly Dittmar, a gender-in-politics expert, who said a few things are going on here: 1) The accusations aren't new, and Trump got accused by a dozen women before the 2016 election, then got elected president. 2) Politics. "It so quickly becomes about political motive and strategy. And once it becomes politicized in that way, you lose the dignity and voice of this victim," she said. I'd add that Trump, in particular, ensured her dignity was undercut with his answer.

Politico reports that Democrats are worried that the debates will devolve into a horror show with in-fighting that will hurt Democrats in the general election. Do you think that's going to happen this early?

I don't. I think with the exception of Cory Booker and Kamala Harris going after Biden's segregationist remarks, Democratic candidates have disagreed with Biden without attacking him.

Sooner or later, yeah, the field is going to get a lot sharper. But it doesn't feel like we're there yet.

Plus, the candidates only have 60 seconds to answer a question and then 30 seconds for a rebuttal! That's as much time as it took me to re-read this answer. 

People vote emotionally. Obama won the hearts and votes of many who wanted a more progressive and unified country (somehow we got the opposite). Trump won those who wanted a more righteous and patriotic country (again, we’re getting the opposite). What is the best emotional pitch of a 2020 candidate so far?

This is a good question.

I don't have a judgment on who's got the "best" pitch, but I can point out the candidates making emotional pitches:

Bernie Sanders is top of mind by trying to pull out voters' sense of outrage about economic inequality. 

Joe Biden, too, has a somewhat emotional pitch

And Cory Booker can get emotional when he talks about criminal justice reform.

Not on this list -- and maybe they should be for reasons I'm blanking on -- are the women running for president. I will be very interested to see how passionate they get at the debates. (And, yes, women have to be more careful about how they wield their emotions, research shows.) 

Only in recent years. For most of his time in the Senate he was the poorest Senator, and surely he remembers what it was like.

Yeah, politicians of his caliber tend to get very rich after office -- book deals and speaking engagements and what not. But it will be up to him to show exactly what you just said, that he remembers what it's like to have to worry about ends meeting. 

Hi Amber, thanks for taking my question. President Trump's use of "Crooked Hillary" and "Low Energy Jeb" were remarkably effective in 2016. Whomever the Democrats nominate in 2020 he is sure to do the same. Given all that has transpired since 2016, how effective do you believe such tactics will be in 2020, and what would approach would you recommend to his opponent to best deflect those pejoratives?

Good question. I'm not a political strategist, so I don't know that I have any advice for the eventual nominee. But I can say that Democrats are totally divided on how to handle Trump. They know they're going to get called names; Trump already has some out there for the leaders in polling. Do they name call him right back like Marco Rubio did? Do they try to fact-check him like Hillary Clinton did in one debate? Ignore him like she did in another? Nothing seemed to work in 2016; all those people aren't president and Trump is. 

Has Governor Bullock or any of the other candidates excluded from this week's debates found an alternate way to get some media attention, such as a town hall on a rival network? Seems like being excluded was actually an opportunity for any campaign smart enough to take advantage of it.

I haven't gotten any notifications from his campaign that he's planning any kind of counter programming. If he did, it'd be risky -- all of us will be watching the debates, not him!

He has qualified for next month's debates, in July. 

With 20+ people (10 on state at each time), wouldn't town halls be better than a debate at this stage?

They only get 60 seconds to answer a question! I can't get over that. But there is value in getting the candidates on stage together and letting them interact with each other. How do you do that outside of a debate? The DNC had a tough job setting this up; it was always going to be imperfect.

I worry that the NBC hosts are going to give Trump free time if they just repeat a Trump Tweet during the debate, This is supposed a Debate between Democrats!

He's damn good at getting attention, that's for sure. 

I know congressional Republicans fear being "primaried" if they speak out against any one of the hundreds of outrages President Trump has been, is, or will be, perpetrating; but what do they fear about keeping silent, and how might the "resistance" use it to influence them, or the Democrats use it to positive effect ?

I don't think they do. There is a very narrow overlap between GOP senators up for reelection and states where they could get kicked out by anti-Trump voters. Susan Collins in Maine is one; Cory Gardner in Colorado is maybe another.

 But the "resistance" helped Beto O'Rourke come close to knocking off Ted Cruz in Texas. But Ted Cruz is still a senator.

Biden isn't the only one who has come into money. Bernie Sanders is now a millionaire (after bashing millionaires and billionaires for years) and owns 3 houses. Hypocrisy?

That's for the Democratic voters to decide! As Bernie Sanders very brusquely says: You can be a millionaire, too, if you write a New York Times best-selling book. 

Just to clarify...Joe’s wealth is very new. When his son Beau needed treatment for brain cancer, Joe strongly considered a second mortgage on his home in Delaware. It’s telling that his current wealth happened after he left office. Not while he was serving.

Judging by this very small sample size of people who are live chatting with me right now, Biden's after-office wealth doesn't seem to bug his potential voters. 

I've lived in countries in a strong welfare state (even Quebec as more generous social programs compared to Ontario) and it's silly to pretend it's only millionaires and billionaires who are going to get taxed for it. Ever level of society feels the "tax burden." The reaction from some lefties to a "war tax" (which wouldn't even happen unless America went into ANOTHER war) shows to me why Americans won't get a stronger welfare state anytime soon.

A lot of interest in this war tax idea! 

People do know this isn't a new or novel idea, right? LBJ wanted one and got it in 1967. Sen. Sanders was publicly supporting a war tax as recently as 2015. Veteran advocacy groups have been calling for it for a while and tons of them praise the move. I sear I'm not a spokesperson for that campaign, but seriously a wealth tax can be argued is wacky, impractical and unconstitutional (as it has in WaPo itself) yet it's gotten way less flack.

It's definitely new to this 2020 primary

If Elizabeth Warren posts a low fundraising number for Q2, what does that do to her momentum?

It's not helpful, but I don't know that one poor fundraising quarter is a dealbreaker -- only the most in tune of voters follow who's raising what. She would have time to keep fundraising before it starts to affect how she campaigns. 

For me, it probably depends on different factors. For Biden, lets remember that upon leaving office he was already 73 and decided not to run for President. One would have assumed that meant his political career was over. I'm fine with it on general principles. jo

I think that's fair. So noted. 

Your thoughts on this please. I read the the GOP legislators involved want to discuss amendments to the proposed carbon tax legislation but surely you have to be there, working and doing your job (that you get paid for) to do that and not in hiding in another state. I know the reverse happened a couple of years ago in another state when some Dems went awol for similar reasons) but that still dosen't make it right this time.

Yeah, I don't understand how Oregon Republican lawmakers got from: "We don't agree with this cap-and-trade bill," to "Let's run away!"

Is of recent vintage. IIRC, when his son Beau was gravely ill, President Obama actually offered financial assistance to the Bidens for the steep medical bills.

This is a (correct) anecdote from Matt Viser's story that keeps coming up again and again in my live chat today. It's a potent one to underscore that Biden has "been there" in terms of money. 

Alex Petri said she will be doing this. How will you be following the debate tonight? I have no faith that NBC commentators (esp. Todd) will ignore the Trump tweets in real time, which is disgusting.

I'll be watching them, tweeting some and doing lots of analysis, along with the whole Fix team.  We will also be chatting about the debate for The Washington Post on R/Politics.

Then we'll be sending out a 5-Minute Fix newsletter of takeaways after it's done. 

Just label the behavior. "Making up baby names for people is what 8 year olds do." When you can talk like adult, then I'll respond to you." "Parents out there, ask yourselves when your kids stopped making up baby names. I think it was at about 8 years old for me." "I see you've resorted to baby names again. Guess you can't come up with an adult answer."

Engage without engaging. Not a bad idea.

I don't understand how more Republican Representatives/Senators aren't speaking out about the issue/conditions of the migrant children in detention. Even if you look at it from a purely selfish, political angle, those images of kids in cages and a DOJ attorney saying soap isn't necessary can't be doing them any good. Are they that afraid of crossing Trump? Does their base really think all this is OK?

Yeah, when this boiled over last spring I think it was, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear they don't agree with childhood detentions -- but they weren't going to do anything about it. 

Biden is not going to be within the first group to debate. Won't it be easier for the Democratic contenders who are to criticize him....because he will not be there to offer a rebuttal?

Or it could be more difficult: You don't want to come across like you're unfairly attacking your opponent. We've never had a situation like this; we don't know!

I feel like when the rules are this limiting, we should call them something else. "Comparative Elevator Pitches for President" or something. Debate implies that there will be some actual back and forth discussion.

Biden on the campaign trail the other day said these should be called "lightning rounds." I've heard Eric Swalwell say to voters at a gathering that it was like "speed dating."

Multiple debates of four candidates each! Seed it, like the NCAA tournament, so you get 1 frontrunner in each. That way everyone gets a chance to break out, and then you have to poll 8 percent or so to reach the finals. I got a million ideas, folks!

Who would watch all of those, though! (I mean, I would. You would! But would the average voter fade out by the time it got to the fourth iteration of what's supposed to be the FIRST of 12 debates?)

It seems like that "women accusing Trump of assault is just politics" answer is getting a bit stale. What would have been the point of accusing him at the time when he was just a NYC real estate pseudo-tycoon and he would have reacted just like he is now, and probably with a lawsuit on top of it? But now, when he's POTUS with war powers, it matters to everyone - and the women are coming forward.

I don't think that's what Dittmar, a gender-in-politics expert, was saying at all, that these women are only using politics to accuse Trump. In fact, I know that's not what she was saying.

She's saying that politics is the reason there isn't a stronger reaction to this accusation. 

There is a difference between someone who makes their millions because of their own efforts such as writing a book (or two) or setting up their own business than inheriting it or getting it by dubious business practices.

"than inheriting it" ... Might you be referring to another 2020 presidential candidate?

But I see your point, that if Biden or Sanders were the nominee, they could still attack Trump for his 1% status.

Will it be entirely up to the NBC Moderators? Will there be at least one question about Climate Change? Or Heath Care?

Ya, up to the NBC moderators. They solicited questions from voters, but I didn't get a clear answer from NBC when I asked about how they'd incorporate those. I'm almost certain there will be questions about climate change and health care. What some candidates want is a whole debate on that!

The stories about the treatment of children in camps along the Mexican border are heartbreaking. It's worse than Abu Ghraib. Has America come to this?

Liberal members of House Democrats agree with you, which is why they threatened to hold up a border-funding bill to deal with this crisis until it included health and safety standards for migrant children.

Thanks for all your questions! See ya next Tuesday when we'll know what actually happened in the first 2020 Democratic presidential debates

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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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