Ask Amber from The Fix

Jul 16, 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?

Thanks for joining me today! What I'm watching:

The fallout from those Trump tweets, yes. (Republicans are all-in on supporting Trump.)

But also: The second Democratic debate will happen at the end of this month!

And apparently we could be headed toward another government shutdown?

What are you curious about? 

Also! I will be on vacation next Tuesday, July 23. But I'll be back on Tuesday the 30th (the day of the first second Democratic debate).

Hi Amber, Thanks for the chats. Always very informative. My q is why the House bothers w a resolution - what effect would it have or is it a stepping stone on a road to impeachment.

Glad i can help make sense of this world. 

Good question, and one I have an answer for: It's not necessarily a stepping stone to impeachment. I think Nancy Pelosi sees it as an outlet for Democrats to express their frustration with Trump without impeaching him. 

It will also force Republicans on the record about Trump's tweets and whether they are racist. As I wrote on Mondayit’s pretty easy to see a “no” vote on this resolution being featured in attack ads against moderate Republicans: When Trump told women of color to “go back” to their countries, so-and-so congressman wouldn’t vote to condemn it. 

Was there a strategy behind the tweets on the 4 Congresswomen? Or can he just not help himself?

I analyzed this in Monday's 5-Minute Fix newsletter. I had a couple, not-mutually-exclusive theories:

1. He needed a distraction from the 2020 Census loss
2. He wanted to exploit Democrats' infighting
3. He sees this stuff on Fox News
4. He likes controversy
5. He wasn't thinking, and just tweeted it

Hi Amber - Is it just me, or do we (and the media) continually fall for Trump's game? A few days ago, everyone was talking about the administration's efforts to hijack and undermine the census. Not a good story for Trump, so he does what he always does and threw out some red meat to get everyone talking about something else, in this case, his undisguised racist tweets. In our short attention span culture, is there anything we can do to stay focused on his undemocratic actions?

I got at this a little in the question above -- it's certainly possible Trump's tweets were a distraction. But the problem for journalists responsibly covering his administration, is when the president of the United States says something that is openly racist, that's NEWS. Big news. You can't not cover that. And Trump knows it. 

Virginia is included in the group of states having a primary in early March. Do any of the Democratic contenders plan to visit the state? Is anyone doing any meaningful work here, other than robo-surveys? Actually, I'm not sure they're doing them, either, because the ones I'm getting and hanging up on are probably for the 2019 election, which you'd think might actually be a big deal.

Sorry. If you don't live in one of the following states: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada, you ain't seeing much of the 2020 candidates this year. Those are the four states voting first, in February. Virginia is more than a dozen states voting on March 3, and it's not even that purple-ish anymore. (I could see 2020 candidates going to Texas over Virginia, depending on their strategy.) 

Amber: So, Trump's tweets have ushered in a temporary truce in what was becoming an increasingly concerning (for Democrats) war between the Squad and their supporters, Nancy Pelosi, and moderate Democrats ridiculously labeled as quasi-segregationists by AOC's dimwitted chief of staff. With Trump giving Dems the chance to take a breath and find common ground, what can Pelosi and the party do to keep the truce in place through November 2020 -- or are they dependent on Trump keeping things stirred up as the only way to keep the party united?

Yeah, good question that I don't have the answer to, because I don't think Democrats have the answer to it either. You're absolutely right that Trump unified House Democrats for the time being. But they still have real policy and strategy differences that will continue to be an issue in the budget debate, attempts to regulate the detainment of migrants at the border, and on and on. 

Sorry don't think so. But if you want to spout the Dem's talking points go right ahead. I am sure that Comrade Bozo sorry Bezos will give you a reward in your next pay check. Nothing worse than corrupt press.

Openly racist words/tweets! I'm not calling the president a racist. It's now Washington Post style to call those tweets racist, a move I agree with. 

Will this new book's stories about him talking negatively about Trump interfere with his/Trump's current lovefest? Do you think he could flip to be consistently anti-Trump if 45 goes after him about what's in the book?

A lot -- A LOT -- of Republicans were quoted in Tim Alberta's new book, "American Carnage," as being extremely critical of Trump after the 2016 election. So, no, I don't think Ted Cruz is in any trouble here of being singled out by Trump like Paul Ryan was. (Ryan was the former House speaker who worked closely with Trump the first two years of his presidency, and Ryan's comments as quoted in the book were pretty startling.) 

This is campaigning for the nomination, not the election. I get why the people who spend a lot of time in DC (Biden and all the senators) would spend less time in northern VA since the folks there who like them, already know them, but why not in the rest of VA?

You're right, it's not that relevant to the primaries, and I shouldn't have framed it as such. (Though it is a little bit -- candidates who think they're close to being the nominee will want to spend time in states that they can build on when they are in the general election.)  I just think Virginia has fallen off national Democrats' map a little bit, on all fronts, after showing its blue colors in 2017 state and 2018 federal elections. That being said, this year there will be a competitive election for which party controls the state legislature. 

Yes, and it was to reframe the argument about immigration/deportation, in order to whip up even more enthusiasm from his base.

Yeah, everything Trump does is with an eye toward his base. 

Sorry, took a break to refill my coffee. #TiredLikeAMother. I'm back!

Okay, I'll ask in the spirit of actually wanting to know. What's different between repeated racist actions yet still not being a racist?

Repeated racist actions: Saying things that are clearly designed to knock down people based on their race alone

Being a racist: Gotta know what's in their heart, their intentions. Is Trump doing this because he believes people of color are inferior, or because he sees a way to gain political points? A thin line, I'll admit, but an important one that journalists aren't willing to -- nor should they be able to -- cross. 

thanks for your great chats, Amber! Could you unravel why Pelosi links debt ceiling and budget deals? Wouldn't default on the debt be catastrophic and worldwide, but failure to reach a budget deal can be mitigated with a CR, or at least dealt with separately?

Good question.

She has more leverage to negotiate what she wants in a budget deal if it's tied to raising the debt ceiling, precisely because the Trump administration wants the debt ceiling raised so badly, lest there be a credit ratings downgrade on the U.S. dollar on their watch, or something. 

Hi Amber, I still can't believe Nancy Pelosi won't start impeachment hearings. Does she think there are that many voters who are opposed to Trump now, but who would be moved to support him because they think that impeachment is an "overreach"? I think it would put Trump on the defensive for the rest of 2019, at least.

There are some within the Democratic Party who agree with you, that impeachment would actually politically benefit Democrats by airing all of Trump's dirty laundry before the election.

But Pelosi is laser focused on polls that show a majority of Americans don't support impeaching Trump, even if they think he lied to the American people. 

I understand the political calculation that leads to most Republicans no-commenting on Trumps racist remarks. But doesn't this mean that they have forever given up the ability to criticize a Democrat for similar moral failings? Or at least, if they attempt to, will the press ask them why 'this time is different'?

I think they're hoping voters' memories are short? Steve Scalise, a top House Republican, tried to argue today that Republicans "never disrespected the office" of the presidency when Obama was president. 

What did he think he accomplished with his gutless remarks about Trump? To establish he wasn't Lindsey Graham? A worthy goal to be sure, but...

He can stay within the Republican Party? I'm exaggerating a little but, but only a little. That's how utterly tribal the party under Trump has become. 

Kris Kobach and Roy Moore are running again? How you rank their changes of securing the party's nomination?

My fellow campaign nerd! I did Senate rankings last week just for you

As for the Republican primaries, I give them both a 50/50 chance. Roy Moore in Alabama has a good a chance as anybody to make it to a runoff in Alabama. And in Kansas, Trump may endorse Kris Kobach - -he did for governor last year even when Washington Republicans didn't want him to. 

And yet he keeps saying/tweeting racist things. I wonder why -- it's completely baffling.

See a few questions above for the difference! 

But it's the primary. I assume someone wants those votes? No?

Yeah, I'm just saying it's not as much of a priority for 2002 candidates as it has been in the past. And yes, I see some folks sharing that Beto O'Rourke has been to Virginia. 

To quote another Republican, Steve, "You Lie!"

A couple people have commented this, so I'll share this one. 

But if that's the metric, it's basically impossible to call ANYONE a racist unless they describe themselves that way!

Yup. Exactly. Notice how journalists write about the white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville, Va. -- they are self-declared supporters of white supremacy, or subscribe to neo-Nazi views, etc. 

MSNBC pundits are saying that Democrats are beginning to worry about having Mueller testify because if he sticks to words in the report there will be nothing new and it will look like another unfulfilled promise by Dems. What do you think?

I think Democrats are expecting Mueller to stick to his words, but what they want is for his words from the report to be broadcast into people's office spaces and living rooms. 

Weingarten just posted "Hey, there is some sort of glitch in the chat software. I am not seeing new questions, and not able to answer old ones..."

No, mine's working. Hope Gene's chat fixed itself! 

I keep wondering why Pelosi is so fearful of losing her moderates in 2020. Just as many ran on "I don't know if I will vote for Pelosi as Speaker" can't they hedge on the difficult issues like Medicare for all, Immigration? Seems to me Repubs used to do that all the time (Susan Collins) and Dems are known for independence within the party. I can see someone saying "I don't believe Medicare for all is right for us and even if it is a platform issue, we are not lockstep here in the Democratic party."

I think she's worried about the presidential campaign nationalizing House races in a way the 2018 midterms didn't. I wrote more about that here

How big of an issue was immigration when you were covering Harry Reid (who spoke against "chain migration" and "birthright citizenship"

It was an issue that was kinda on the backburner but also much more front and center than it is now. What I mean by that is under the Obama administration, the Senate had passed an immigration bill, but the House under John Boehner refused to take it up. House Democrats talked a lot about this and even once tried a little-known, long-shot parliamentary maneuver to try to get such a bill a vote in the Republican-controlled House. 

Now, the migrant crisis has thrust immigration to the center of nearly all of our political debates. But Congress isn't even bothering to talk about an immigration bill reforming the system.

A few years ago, Scott Pelley pointed out to Paul Ryan that there's little daylight between calling someone a racist and labeling their actions as textbook racist.

Little daylight, but enough meaningful daylight, in my opinion.

I was struck by how quickly the media as a whole (Pox News excepted, of course) acknowledged Trump's tweets were indeed RACIST. After all the pussyfooting about whether a lie was a lie "we can't look into his heart so who can truly say?" it was pretty refreshing. Have reporters finally realized there's no nuance with the guy and if "it walks like a duck..." so just say it out loud?

We can call lies out when it's pretty clear Trump lied (like about whether he tried to fire Mueller, or  his involvement in paying off women who said they had affairs with him). Those have built up over time. 

Ha, that old ploy. Good old Gene trying to get out of another chat.

Lol. It IS lunchtime on the East coast

Amber, I can see why both Trump and many Republican politicians MIGHT be OK with racist language and racist policies for political gain, but let's ignore them for a moment. Let's consider voters who support and actually vote for Trump. What motives might they have for supporting racist language and policies if they were not actually in agreement with them? No, we cannot know for sure what is in their hearts, but we can know for sure that race motivates them more than any other issue.

Yeah, this is the big question of the Trump era. What about Trump's approach has won so many Americans over? I think it's anxiety about the economy, transferred onto immigrants, and a backlash to the first black president. (Nothing new in America, and certainly not a new theory about the rise of Trump). But historians will have a much clearer picture on this moment. 

How exactly can one be a non-racist Neo-Nazi?

The next reader I'm about to share answers this pretty well. 

They chanted white supremacist/anti-Semitic slogans. Describes the behavior, not mind-reading their thoughts.


Tip, or another "boss" could bring everyone in line, tell all these senators they have to stay in the Senate to hopefully flip it, and get serious about a few primary candidates who actually could win. Sadly, this won't happen

Yeah, the era of party bosses feels so dated, doesn't it? 

I get what you are saying and even I don't agree, I still thinking phrasing it like "in his heart" isn't helpful?

Yeah, I'll grant you that -- it's not very clear. What would be better is to talk about his intentions in saying stuff like this. 

Do you think candidates like Booker, de Blasio and Klobuchar have hurt their reputations by running and getting only 1%?

For the most part, no. We're talking about them now, and we probably wouldn't be if they weren't running for president. Maybe Bill de Blasio, though -- being in Iowa when his city had a blackout over the weekend, and getting criticized by the governor for it, was pretty brutal.

People will vote for Trump because they dislike Democrats more. It's not that complicated.

That's kinda Trump 2020's game plan. According to strategists I've talked to: Someone in, say, Ohio could say: I don't like his tweets, but I am pretty happy with my health care, and the economy seems to be doing okay, so I'll stick with what I know. 

Still don't understand why one person has so much power. In other words, I don't have to win the vote on my bill, but there should at least be a vote.

The House is a majority-rule place, so that's the way it works. Interestingly: Some 2020 Dem candidates want to get rid of the legislative filibuster, which would make the Senate work much more like the House. 

That's the reason Trump tweets, so he can re-brand the Democrats in ways that will get him votes.

That certainly seems to be what's going on right now. And congressional Republicans are joining him in on this.

But he's racism predates his political career?

Still can't derive intent from the birtherism scandal, tho.

Wasn't the same argument made about the word 'lie'? But gradually the media has decided some of Trumps comments are lies, they can derive intent from actions and repeated use.

Well, we can derive intent from knowing at the time what Trump knew -- that he KNEW he was involved in the hush-money payments when he said he wasn't, for example. 

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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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