Ask Amber from The Fix (October 15)

Oct 15, 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?

Hi everyone! 

First, some exciting news. For the past four years, I’ve been writing a politics newsletter aimed at explaining the day’s biggest political news, in five minutes or less. The 5-Minute Fix has been in readers’ inbox every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon. But starting today, that newsletter will be sent out five afternoons a week, Monday-Friday, and be almost entirely focused on impeachment.

 

My goal for this impeachment newsletter is for it to become your single source for a round up of the fast-moving inquiry and better understand the process and players. I want you to know the answers to questions like these:

 

Who is Gordon Sondland and why does he matter to the inquiry?

Which Trump administration officials have testified against him?

What was Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani doing in Ukraine?

How does a Senate impeachment trial work?

Can Trump run for office if he’s impeached? 

 

I’ll also be regularly answering your impeachment questions. You can submit them to me in this live chat, or here

So make sure to sign up for The 5-Minute Fix, and share this link wapo.st/fix-newsletter with all your friends and family. Thanks! Let me know what you want to see in this newsletter.

 

Okay, let’s get started with the day’s news. 

Which senators do you think are feeling the most heartburn during the impeachment inquiry? Those who are in solid Trump territory probably feel pretty comfortable unless they are strict constitutionalists, but others must see their chances of reelection slipping. Who are the most vulnerable?

I'd say: Cory Gardner of Colorado, Susan Collins of Maine, Martha McSally of Arizona and Doug Jones in Alabama, on the Democratic side. 

These are some of the most competitive 2020 races, and we don't yet know how impeachment will play in them -- largely because we don't know what Trump might be impeached for.

But you could also say most Republican senators are very unhappy with the situation right now, and struggling with how to defend the president. Read this from my colleagues Mike DeBonis and Rachael Bade: 

"Facing local media last week, GOP Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Cory Gardner of Colorado — both up for reelection next year — dodged questions about whether Trump’s conduct was appropriate. Another Republican, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James E. Risch of Idaho, cut short an interview with a public-radio reporter in Boise rather than answer the question." 

If Speaker Pelosi truly has the votes to proceed with an impeachment investigation, why not put everyone on the record - including making some R's squirm about the vote - and undercut some of the President's arguments that the process in flawed? Or does she not truly have the votes?

She definitely has the votes for an impeachment inquiry -- impeachment is another story. So far only 30 House Democrats have publicly said they want to impeach Trump. But more are likely waiting for the inquiry to finish its investigation.

I think Pelosi is holding out having a vote because she doesn't want her moderate members to have to be on the record in a way that will allow Trump and Republicans to muddy what they supported (an inquiry is different than impeachment). And also because she truly believes Republicans have a thin argument here, with "hold a vote," that's pretty self evident. More on this whole reasoning for a vote here.

What is your sense of the timetable for the impeachment inquiry? Could the inquiry extend into 2020?

Here's a calendar. They are interviewing a couple witnesses a week, and the impeachment inquiry is only a few weeks old. So they are moving fast. Democrats would like for it not to extend into 2020, and some have said they could have articles of impeachment written up by Thanksgiving -- which could mean a vote before lawmakers leave for the Christmas break.

Is the strategy to try to run the clock out?

That, and undermine the investigation as a politically organized effort to benefit Democrats. 

Hi Amber -- thanks for taking questions today. I just caught Rand Paul on MSNBC, refusing to answer directly whether it was wrong for Trump to pressure Ukraine for dirt on Hunter Biden, and not surprisingly the interviewed immediately devolved into the usual what about ism/both sides have a problem, etc. etc. He looked liked he'd rather be getting a tooth pulled. And yet despite the daily revelations, none of which are helpful to Trump to say the least (case in point -- the latest from Bolton), not much seems to have changed for the Republicans. What is it going to take?

I think some has changed for Republicans. According to our analysis, at least 15 Senate Republicans have expressed concerns or reservations about Trump's actions with regard to Ukraine and China. That's not nothing, especially when they have said it in the context of an impeachment inquiry happening in the House. A handful of House Republicans have said they don't see anything wrong with looking into the Ukraine call.


As for what it's going to take for Republicans to break with Trump wholesale -- I don't know the answer to that. I think many lawmakers believe they can walk and chew gum at the same time, break with Trump on Syria but support him in his impeachment inquiry. I see no evidence to date that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is considering abandoning Trump. McConnell is up for reelection next year in a pro-Trump state, and he recently ran a digital ad promising to stand between Democrats and removing Trump from office. 

What do you make of Joni Ernst being outraised by her opponent? Is Ernst just counting on outside help? A million raised in a quarter for an incumbent senator with a national profile doesn't feel great.

I think it says that this Iowa Senate race could be competitive, if the stars align perfectly for Democrats: More strong fundraising, national Dems' preferred candidate, Theresa Greenfield, winning the primary. But both Republicans and Democrats are going to be focused on other, more competitive states --- like Colorado and Maine and North Carolina and Alabama and Georgia. So unless Greenfield continues to show she's really, truly competitive, I give Ernst the edge for incumbency and being in a Republican-leaning state.

hi Amber, do you know if trump's judicial appointments tend to be judges who pledge to uphold the rule of law, or would they be more inclined to defend trump in legal proceedings?

The Senate has appointed a LOT of Trump judges, so no, I don't have a read on all of them. (I will note that Republicans in the Senate have quashed some of Trump's more egregiously unfit picks.)

But anything impeachment related is likely to end up at the Supreme Court, and there Trump has installed a 5-4 conservative majority. That doesn't always mean they're going to agree with him (he's lost some, won some at the Supreme Court), but still. 

Democrats want to win in 2020. Electability has been a prime concern. The truth is, though, that a lot of Democrats could win against Trump. But shouldn't the real question be -- who has the longest coattails? Because whether it's Warren or Biden or Harris or Sanders, Mitch McConnell can block all of their proposals as Senate Majority Leader. So who delivers not just a win in the Electoral College, but a majority in the Senate?

GREAT question. I've talked to some Senate Democratic operatives who think if they win the White House, they can win back the Senate. I still think it's an uphill battle for Democrats to win the Senate. Assuming they lose Doug Jones in Alabama, they'd need to net four races in tough places, at least one of which in places like Georgia or Texas or Iowa. 

As for which presidential candidate can bring out the voters, I don't know who that would be. I do know some House Republican operatives think they lose with Biden on the ballot. But I don't know if that extends to the Senate.

do you think Congress, particularly the Senate, will enact any of the spending bills before Nov 21? Or are we expecting another CR

I think they could come to an omnibus agreement before Thanksgiving. But Trump and his Wall are big question marks that could necessitate another short-term spending bill. (ICYMI, Congress kicked the can down the road in October, the start of the new fiscal month, because they couldn't come to a budget agreement.)

He sure has raised Biden's profile.

Well, and Biden isn't even leading in some national polls going into tonight's debate. So it makes you wonder if Trump spent a lot of political capital going after a political opponent who might not even be Democrats' nominee. 

Chuck Todd's shouting match with Ron Johnson comes to mind, but when are the Sunday shows going to stop trying to book Republican non-talking heads?

I think the problem for producers is that Sen. Johnson did seem like a legitimate person to talk to. A few days earlier the Wall Street Journal had reported he expressed concerns about holding up military aide for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. But he seemed to have realized how detrimental that sounded to Trump and tried to reverse course to defend the president. He just had to ignore facts and Todd's legitimate questioning to do it. 

On Face The Nation Adam Schiff said that they may not need the whistleblower's testimony since they have the transcript. Isn't having the whisteblower testify a big deal?

Maybe not a big-enough deal to risk this person's career and even safety. This person did share what s/he knows in a detailed, comprehensively researched complaint that so far is proving quite accurate when measured up against info the White House itself has released. 

So Trump had his personal attorney looking for dirt on Biden in Ukraine. So long as it was his personal attorney, and not the federal government, what's the problem?

Well, you have White House aides and other national security officials worried that Giuliani was conducting shadow foreign policy, overriding their decades of expertise and mandate from the White House. It leaked into official diplomacy at least once; with Trump: On that phone call with Ukraine's new president, Trump told them to get in touch with Giuliani. 

Plus, we still don't know who paid for Giuliani's international trips surrounding this. And the ties between him and Ukrainians accused of campaign finance violations just got closer. 

Mike Pompeo recently stated that he uses "religion to guide his leadership, NOT his decision making." I don't understand this statement. How can he be a good leader if he does not use his sense of morality and integrity to guide his decision making? Cognitively, he may understand the concept of "Love thy neighbor", but that has no influence on his professional choices. It's like the head of PETA overlooking employees who wear fur. Apparently, his religious convictions have no influence on his life. How can he (among others in this administration) claim to be Christian, or at least support Christianity, when they do not act in a Christian manner? They talk the talk, but don't walk the walk. Why do people believe them?

I think Pompeo was straddling the line between his religion and people who don't think there's a place in government for religion -- the separation of church and state. What he said makes sense to me

Trump's actions in Syria are the most telling example of his unfitness to be anywhere near the wheels of government. Is there any evidence that 20 Republicans will feel the same during his impeachment trial in the Senate?

Like I said earlier in this chat, I think some Senate Republicans feel like they can separate the two: Their disapproval of Trump getting U.S. troops out of Syria, with the accusations he was trying to use diplomacy to help his reelection. Still, overall, it isn't helpful to Trump to have so many Republicans upset at his foreign policy as House Democrats consider impeaching him for his foreign policy convos.

Here is a perfect example of the difference between the parties...Hunter Biden does an interview, admits to mistakes and says he will step down. If this were Trump, he would double down and attack the attacker.

I think that's a fair analysis. Trump has used nearly 13,500 false or misleading statements, according to The Washington Post Fact Checker team, to defend himself. 

One the received wisdoms I've kept hearing is how Iowans in particular don't like it when one candidate attacks his or her primary opponents. So why attack Medicare-for-All and also attack in the weird way he is? Plenty of people aren't as wild on Medicare-for-All, but the eventual nominee has to be able speak to people who do, right?

I've received quite a few questions about Buttigieg today. I think he is becoming more aggressive because, well, it had to happen some time. If he sees himself in the lane for people who support Biden's policies but might not vote for Biden, he clearly thinks now is the time to start making the case for why he's better than Biden -- and the other poll leaders, two of whom do support more liberlal policies than he does.

Between impeachment and the impending elections, no one is going to pass any significant federal legislation in the next year, right?

Guns, the border, prescription drugs --- those were all hard in a divided Washington in the best of times, let alone now!

When do we start shutdown watch? Also kind of related, what happened to the wall money Trump tried to pilfer from the pentagon? I'm guessing it couldn't be spent due to law suits, so now that FY2018 is over, was it returned to the treasury? Thanks for all you do!

I think starting in mid November, let's look at whether there is the possibility for a last-minute budget deal before a short-term one runs out. No one in Washington wants another shut down (I think). 

And Trump's spending the Pentagon money for the border, though I'm not sure what the update on any lawsuits are. I'll keep an eye out for this to update y'all on it.

Thanks for all your great questions! There were a lot I didn't get to, but I need to stop to write my newsletter, The 5-Minute Fix, and then get ready for tonight's debate. 


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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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