Ask Amber from The Fix

Aug 20, 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 on this sweltering August Tuesday. What are you curious about? 

With the President and Mitch McConnell generally walking back their comments on gun control, do you think the Senate will take up the issue after the recess is over?

Good question. McConnell said this will be front and center, but he did not commit to having a bill voted on. And he has no reason to commit to such a thing now that President Trump, as you accurately say, isn't a big advocate anymore for gun control.

McConnell could simply say he agreed to let there be a debate, and there wasn't a bill he thought could pass the Senate, so he won't bring it for a vote and that will be that. That would be my best guess on how this goes.

what could he possibly want with Greenland? It's like developing a fixation on the words Papua New Guinea.

I listed out a couple, not-mututally exclusive theories in my 5-Minute Fix newsletter recently. Like:

1. It's a strategic spot to assert the U.S. in a melting Artctic

2. It's a power move -- it'd be the biggest addition to the US in a century, under his name

3. Maybe he wants to build a hotel there?

Hi Amber, Thank you for taking my question. I hope that the baby is letting you sleep. Elizabeth Warren recently reapologized (if there is such a word) about her claim to native American heritage, and your colleague Jennifer Rubin was critical of her for being politically tone deaf in bringing up a topic that many think is better off not being raised. Yet, one can say that regardless of what she says or doesn't say from this point forward, Pres. Trump will not only bring it up but excoriate her for it. What are your thoughts about her likelihood, were she to get the nomination, of effectively dealing with this so that it does not become a liability?

Thanks for asking your question -- I got 8 hours of sleep the other night and I was almost skipping down the street, I felt so rested and buoyant.

Anyway. I think she would agree with you that Trump is going to hound her for this no matter what, but she could just as easily make the calculation: So what? How damaging is that really to her,  the accusation she once used Native American heritage for her career benefit, when she can try to make the case that she has the more economic populist ideas to put forth and execute? 

Also, here's her Native American ancestry debate, explained. 

Apparently crowd size is a big thing these day. Elizabeth Warren claimed she got 1,200 people at a rally yesterday, but I don't buy it. Just wondering how do you really calculate crowd size anyhow? I notice police estimates are often mentioned, but how do they do it? I googled this before hand and noticed sometimes they are pretty inconsistent.

I learned this during the debacle over Trump's inauguration crowd size: Journalists have to rely on estimates from officials, because it's very hard to accurately count a crowd.

And crowd size does matter as a way to measure a candidate's support. It's how we first caught on four years ago that Bernie Sanders was catching on. But of course it's not the be-all, end-all measure of a candidate's popularity.

Is the senator from Kentucky likely to win his re-election? If does and the Republicans retain control of the Senate, and then Trump is defeated by a Democrat, then will Mr. McConnell continue being the "grim reaper" for House-passed legislation --- or is another scenario possible? Thank you!

I'm on the record that it will be very hard for Democrats to kick out McConnell in November, even if their candidate is raising tons of money.

From there, I think his priority is to keep Republicans in the Senate majority, so if that means killing House legislation, so be it. If it means compromising some, so be it. 

Hey Ms. Phillips, being a central Va. resident, I'm watching the Human Rights Campaign's move to target numerous state legislative districts for campaigning and with campaign money in the commonwealth. Is this kind of scenario playing out in any of the other states that you know of? Thank you!


I don't know exactly where the Human Rights Campaign is investing. But I do know that  Democrats and their aligned groups are very excited and bullish about winning both chambers of the state legislature in this year's state elections. They are just two seats away in each chamber from doing that and, they hope, setting the tone for a good 2020 campaign for Democrats all around. So you can expect to see lots more investment in your area if you live in a competitive district!

Would Elizabeth Warren be wise to resign her Senate seat now? If she won the presidency, Republican governor Baker would undoubtedly appoint a Republican to replace her until the next election cycle in 2022. If she resigned now, the replacement would have to stand for election in 2020, I assume. If a Democrat won that race, it would give a President Warren one additional supporter in the Senate during her first two years. Of course, if she resigned and didn't win the presidency, she'd have given up her seat for nothing.

I think for the last reason you mention -- the risk is high -- she has no intention of resigning her seat. Most of the lawmakers running for president can do both. New Jersey even passed what's known as "Cory's law" last year to let Sen. Booker run for president and Senate, just in case the president thing doesn't work out.

As expected, he is backing off the concept of universal background checks and is now promoting the "mental health" red herring. I know that this is in line with the NRA, but is it in line with the average American's thinking about gun control?

According to polls, Americans have long supported universal background checks (in theory at least), and there's evidence in a recent Fox News poll that Trump voters are on board with the two ideas he suggested: universal background checks and red-flag laws.

New Hampshire Republicans were against Trump in the 2016 election and he narrowly lost. This time they are with him. Will that translate into winning New Hampshire for him?

Maybe. His campaign hopes so! There's a potentially competitive Senate and governor's race there next year, too. Not helpful to Trump, some Republicans say: Having his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, run for Senate there, which he may do.

Hi Amber, What is your prediction, recognizing that we're still a long way off, of the likelihood of the Senate majority switching from Republican to Democrat in the 2020 election?

Hi! As I wrote in July, Senate Democrats can take back the Senate, but they'll need a dream election to do it. Republicans are defending most of the competitive seats, but they're in states Trump won in 2016, like Georgia and Texas and Iowa.

Which Senate races are the most competitive or likely to flip in 2020?

I got ya covered: These

Who are some people that are not currently running for president who you could see as a possible VP candidate for the Dems?

Good question. Stacey Abrams for sure. After that I honestly haven't though much about it. So many names I'd pick are already running for president!

How do you think Beto's relaunch is going?

I think it's a little rough. He got attention, and not in a good way, for saying that running for Senate isn't "good enough." (Hello! Democrats are trying to take back the Senate, which would seriously help any Democrat in the White House.)

And I was a little taken aback too, though I'm not sure if anyone else noticed this, of him saying this weekend that he didn't really "get" the direness of 2020 until after the tragic shooting in his hometown. Democratic primary voters might think: We've felt that way for awhile!

How is she doing? More importantly, how long does she sleep at night?

She's great, thanks for asking! Living life and loving it. And she's sleeping better this week, but watch me jinx myself.

Does Blake offer any advice about babies who don't sleep through the night?

I heard a rumor that my colleague Aaron doesn't even drink coffee, which, like, how...?

A Recession will happen someday, anyways, but would it really change the votes of Trump's White Evangelicals before the election?

I don't think that's what Trump's campaign is worried about. We've seen that he has about 30% of the population no matter what so far. They're worried about the suburban women in states Trump narrowly won, like Michigan and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, going: Oh the economy is doing bad? Let's pick someone else...I didn't like what he was doing at the border/his tweets anyway.

Hi Amber, As long as we're playing with hypotheticals, here's one. The 2022 Senate map is tough for Republicans - maybe not as bad as '18 was for the Dems, but not far off. If a Dem wins but the GOP keeps the Senate, Mitch will have several members up in '22 from states that the Dem now-president either won or came close to winning (WI, PA, NC, FL, OH, IA). Recognizing the possibility that Dem voters don't show up in mid-terms when they've got the WH, do you see Mitch playing less of a grim reaper role, if only to protect these seats?

I do. I think McConnell has his core beliefs, and he is also exceedingly smart and practical and tactical. He'll do what it takes to win. There's a reason he's Republicans' longest-serving leader in the Senate!

(That being said, I'm on the record as being perplexed by his campaign leaning into controversies. It feels like they're trying to be Trumpian and it's not quite working.)

Please don't spread misinformation. Your quote was totally wrong.

I don't think it's incorrect to say he said Running for Senate "is not good enough for this country." He did say that! But I'm sharing this to be on the record that O'Rourke's team thinks it was taken out of context and he's being unfairly criticized for it. 

Didn't Stacey Abrams say she didn't want to run as VP candidate?

Yeah, but she didn't say she wouldn't be VP! I took that comment more as her saying: I'm not going to run in this super crowded field just to get my name out there and be more high profile. I think I can make the most difference doing voting rights advocacy outside of 2020. 

It's only an interim appointment by Baker; Mass. law requires a special election within 145-160 days after the seat is vacant. So it would be frustrating and difficult for that first 100 day period, but not a complete showstopper. And President Warren could easily wait to fill a Supreme Court seat, for instance.

Good point. 

Amber, seriously? You don't think have a mass shooting would effect you in a different way? I mean when there's a shooting in El Paso, I'm sure people in Omaha care, but reporting don't go there for reaction because it's far more immediate for the community effected. I think you are overly parsing Beto's words and it's super weird and distasteful.

I'm not questioning the validity of how he feels or whether his words are right or wrong. I'm saying that, politically, it could come across as tone deaf to primary voters who already had their wake-up call on why Trump is bad to them

Trump is thinking of a payroll tax cut to boost the economy. Would Congress - House and Senate agree to this?

Good question. It would be quite expensive, as some budget hawk interest groups pointed out to me today. But also probably quite popular!

I'm curious, what, if anything, are you hearing about this? Is Joe Kennedy seriously thinking of challenging Markey in the primary? If so, does he have a shot? Is Markey vulnerable? Is the real goal to convince Markey to retire gracefully?

Good question. I'm not talking to Massachusetts political folks about this yet. I think Kennedy is an ambitious lawmaker, and especially in Massachusetts if you want to move up, often times you have to force your way up. As for whether Markey is vulnerable, I don't know. 

Greetings from NH. While the organization/party may support Trump this time around I can tell you I know many died-in-the -wool Republicans that absolutely will not vote for Trump. Maybe they won't go Dem, but then they'll stay home.

Interesting! Thanks for sharing. Staying at home is just as bad, from Trump's perspective, as people voting for the Democrats. We're so divided these days that turnout is how politicians win races.

How likely are we to see this colossal mistake proposed by the White House? How will this impact the elections (if at all) given that many people don't care about foreign affairs.

I haven't been following this, but I think any proposal to seriously cut foreign aid would have a hard time getting through Congress. There are lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that value spending money abroad.

Hi Amber, I really like Mayor Pete but not quite sure he could win in a general but I would totally support him as VP and let him have time to get some more experience. Having said that - what is your dream ticket if election is tomorrow?

Hi! So sharing my opinion is not part of my job (I analyze politics but don't do commentary), and I'm not voting in the 2020 primaries. But I did see a Fox News poll showing he has such low support among black voters, who are key to winning the Democratic primary, that it's not even measurable. That's a problem for him!

As a former El Pasoan, I really dislike your answer on Beto. It was very upsetting. I'm generally a fan and I get your take is your take, but please, people needlessly died.

Your opinion is heard! Apologies for offending you, it was not my intention. 

Thanks for the great chat. See y'all next week, same time same place.

And in the meantime, sign up for my newsletter, which will hopefully keep you occupied until next Tuesday. The 5-Minute Fix is here!

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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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