Live chat: Politics and impeachment (Jan. 14)

Jan 14, 2020

Happy Tuesday. I write about politics for The Fix, and I'm chatting here every Tuesday at noon Eastern about the day's biggest political news. What are you curious about?

Happy Tuesday! Thanks for joining me in this live chat. Here's what I'm watching:

Today is the day that could officially set the Senate trial in motion. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has decided the House will vote Wednesday to send the articles of impeachment over to the Senate and to name and approve House lawmakers as prosecutors, called managers. 

From there, the Senate trial could begin in the next couple days. And yes, there is a real possibility -- even a likelihood -- the trial is going on during the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3, the first voting contest in the 2020 presidential election.

I asked last week what Democrats got out of holding up the articles of impeachment for three weeks -- certainly no agreement on witnesses.

Speaking of 2020, we have Cory Booker dropping out of the presidential race.

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders ripping off their truce and fighting, including over reportedly whether a woman can win as president. The Fix's Aaron Blake has a theory on why it's happening now, which you can probably guess: Iowa.

Oh, and because that's not enough political news, we are also watching the fall out from the killing of an Iranian military leader -- mainly that the Trump administration's explanations for why he posed an imminent threat (and thus needed to be taken out without notifying Congress//taken out at all, given the geopolitical risks) is falling apart.

What else are you curious about?

I like Pete Buttigieg and I think he has great potential, BUT...I can't get past his lack of experience. That said, he has the name recognition to make a run for Indiana governor. If he wins that, he'd have garnered some regional and national experience to run for president. Your thoughts?

Yeah, Buttigieg's approval rating with black voters continues to be a problem as well for him. A new Washington Post/Ipsos poll gets at this, as analyzed by The Fix's Aaron Blake: "Nearly 4 in 10 black voters say they would either not vote or vote for someone else if Buttigieg were the nominee."

So, to your question: Sure, running for president is a great jumping off point for any other job. And after Democrats won in Kansas and nearly in Georgia at the gubernatorial level, I'm not ruling out a Democrat winning in Indiana either. (Though I haven't investigated the particulars of that state nor how weak the GOP candidate is.)

Still, Buttigieg's problem is one of timing. If a Democrat wins now, and wins again in four years, he's got to wait 8 years to run again for president.

In 2016, as primary voting/caucuses began in February, the Tuesday Post political chats were filled with questions about "what's going to happen today" and answers about "I don't know." Please consider switching the political chats to Wednesday to allow consideration of the results of the voting/caucuses, rather than speculation about what might happen on the day of the chat. Thanks.

Hello longtime chatter! Actually, stay tuned for a change in chat date shortly. We're still firming up plans, but I'll announce it in the coming weeks.

Hi, it's me! The person who said the Kansas Senate race would be competitive! Now I'm wondering how much it matters that Kansas and Iowa are both likely to have competitive Senate races. Will we be hearing more about Trump's failed trade war and the bailout payments to farmers? Or was that already likely to be a topic for the 2020 Presidential race anyway?

Hi Kansas!

So you're referring to the fact Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has decided not to run for an open Senate seat in Kansas -- giving Democrats even more of an opportunity to pick up a seat that Republicans have held for a century.

And you're also referring to the fact Democrats are trying to unseat Sen. Joni Ernst in Iowa, which they could do in a good election year for Democrats.

I think you're right that it increases the likelihood we hear about Midwest issues in the presidential race, but I think you're also right we were likely to hear about those anyway. Look at the 2020 swing states: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania (and Florida).

Are the Republicans (specifically McConnell and Rand) seriously saying that they will OK Bolton and other witnesses for the Dems if they get to call Hunter Biden? And if so why the heck wouldn’t the Dems call their bluff on that? Anything Hunter would say would no doubt be overshadowed by any bombshell testimony from Bolton. Plus I believe it would backfire horribly when the public sees that Hunter is irrelevant to the case, while Bolton clearly is not.

No, that's not what Senate Republicans are saying. They are saying they don't want to agree to witnesses now, they want to start the trial and have opening arguments and an opportunity for senators to ask written questions, and then -- this is about two weeks in -- have a vote on whether to hold witnesses. At that point, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is hoping that the senators' butts are numb, literally, and just want to get this thing over with and vote on whether to acquit or convict the president without hearing from any witnesses.

Trump wants to hear from Hunter Biden and the whistleblower and other uber-political witnesses, but so far McConnell seems to have talked him out of that idea. Because if they open the door to calling their own witnesses, they open the door to Democrats calling potentially damaging witnesses to Trump, like John Bolton.

What are the odds that some GOP senators develop a spine and vote to have witnesses called? Does the idea of Bolton talking give Trump nightmares? Can they force Mulvaney to appear? Would it be damaging to have WH witnesses sitting in the hot seat and refusing to answer?

I'm not going to put odds on whether four Republican senators cross the aisle and join with all Democrats to vote to allow witnesses.

But I will say it's a possibility. Notably, one of those potential votes, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, said she is working with a "small group" of Republican senators to find a compromise that allows witnesses. And Democratic senators have tantalizingly thrown out that they hear from "numerous" Republicans that they at least want the White House to hand over documents.

On the flip side, McConnell is a powerful persuader and a master parliamentarian of the Senate. He can use those tools to try to keep a majority in line and avoid having witnesses called -- kinda like he did to get Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.

What is the likelihood of Leahy, Booker, et. al, of recusing themselves, given Hunter Biden's contributions/gifts over the years?

Well, given President Trump is the one on trial, not Hunter Biden ... low. I don't think any senator recuses himself or herself for any reason. 

Trump assassinates a foreign government official...provides flimsy reasons...Esper contradicts those reasons ("We have no proof attacks were imminent, but the President believed it, so we did too"). And now the reaction seems to be Oh hmm well OK, let's just move on. This is madness. Is Trump the best hypnotist the world has ever seen?

I don't know that that's the reaction. The Senate is considering a vote to assert its war powers and force the president to come to Congress next time it does something related to Iran. The House already voted to do this. 

Hi Amber -- thanks for taking questions today. Trump retweeted an image of Sen. Schumer and Speaker Pelosi in Middle Eastern garb in front of an Iranian flag the other day. While there was some coverage of it, there was not much reaction from either side (not surprising with the Republicans, but more surprising to me that the Democrats seemed to let it slide). My sense is that Trump has totally succeeded in numbing the public to every outrageous statement/tweet/lie to the extent that the voting public doesn't care anymore and we know what to expect from him, so it's no longer worth the time to get worked up about it because we simply can't keep up. This is an incredibly depressing place for our country to be, in my view, but I'm curious about your take as a journalist.

Hi there -- thanks for asking questions.

I absolutely think there is a fatigue, in political circles and in media consumption, of the lines Trump crosses in political discourse, because he does it so regularly. The last big big big blow up I can remember about one of his tweets was when he told members of Congress of color to "go home." 

That being said, there was also a LOT of news yesterday, on Iran and impeachment and the 2020 campaign, that may have drowned out an otherwise newsworthy event, the president suggesting the Democratic leaders in Congress are  working with the Iranians/terrorists. That, too, is a hallmark of the Trump presidency; he's breaking norms so much and so often that there is so much for us to cover, and so little time to do it.

I see a lot of the candidate of love now that Cory Booker is back to only running for another term as U.S. Senator from New Jersey, but it felt like his was attacking Joe Biden all time debate which doesn't feel very loving?

Yeah there was definitely a decent amount of air time for Booker during the debates when he went after Joe Biden. Remember "You're dipping into the Kool-Aid"?

As my colleague Eugene Scott said, his approach just didn't resonate with Democratic voters.

Hi, Amber. Let me offer the following scenario for your consideration: Each time the Senate votes on a procedural matter, two or three GOP senators will take turns crossing the aisle, so they can pose as bipartisan--but never four, unless Manchin or Jones signal they'll pull the same stunt in reverse, giving the GOP breathing room. Thoughts?

I think that's a possibility, but I also think each Republican senator will vote as she or he sees fit, rather than consider some grand plan about how the Republican Party looks with respect to bipartisanship. I think the end result could be the same though, not enough bipartisanship to change how this trial is going to go and move it in a direction Democrats want to see.

Seeing Pelosi agree to have a vote on the impeachment articles makes me wonder if the Democrats had applied more pressure in 2016 if they could have forced McConnell to have a vote on Garland for SCOTUS. To me it’s the same issue, the leader of the House/Senate decided they wouldn’t take action – just surprised there was little talk comparing the two (and pundits if they were support one, should have supported the other) McConnell held out until he got what he wanted. Seems like Pelosi is giving in without guarantee of witnesses. Was McConnell ever asked about the comparison?

I don't know if McConnell was ever asked about the comparison directly. But on these two big issues -- an election-year Supreme Court vacancy and whether to hold witnesses in a Senate trial -- McConnell has held firm and won over Democrats/public pressure every time.

There's been lots of hand-wringing recently about how the democratic field has lost almost all of its minority candidates. Conversely though, a recent WaPo poll showed that amongst African American voters, the very very white Joe Biden was an overwhelming favorite. These two facts when compared to each other tend to imply that much of the hand-wringing is coming less from the communities of color themselves, but from the more "woke" constituencies of the party who care more about appearances than actual representation and voter preferences, a 21st century version of tokenism. So I guess my question is, if African American Voters are overwhelmingly backing a non-white candidate over viable candidates of color, why should us white folks have pause? Thanks for covering the election with such nuance and thoroughness.

This is indeed a question that requires nuance and thoroughness, moreso than I can offer in this live chat. So I'm dodging a bit. But I will say this: Diversity is a good thing for communities, whether that's a neighborhood, a school, an office, a political community. That's why the increasingly white Democratic field should be criticized for being increasingly white. That said, policies also matter, and Joe Biden's policy and experiences continue to resonate with a majority of black voters. Also, it's worth pointing out that voters of color -- any voters of any color -- are not homogenous, so we can't sum their feelings up as: "They prefer a white candidate." I don't know if all that was coherent, but those are my initial thoughts to your question.

Doesn't being labeled "Mayor Pete" highlight his lack of experience? It makes it sound like he's the mayor of Mayberry. No one calls Mike Bloomberg Mayor Mike.

It was that or all of us try to pronounce his last name. (It's BOOT Edge Edge)

"After Democrats won in Kansas and nearly in Georgia at the gubernatorial level, I'm not ruling out a Democrat winning in Indiana either. (Though I haven't investigated the particulars of that state nor how weak the GOP candidate is.)" While it's true anything could happen, everything I hear from my Hoosier friends tells me the chances of a Democrat winning statewide office in Indiana are about the same ad those of a Republican in Virginia or Maryland: poor.

Well, a Republican is governor of Maryland!

I thought he had some good ideas and more charisma than most of the Gang of Five. I would have liked for him to at least at least see what Iowa had to give, then South Carolina. #DebatesSoWhite

So noted. As a smart Democratic strategist told me, whoever wins South Carolina -- the first big contingency of black voters -- has a good shot of winning the nomination. 

If McConnell & Company were to do a lightning round version of impeachment would they still be able to find Trump "innocent" before the State of the Union address?

So, before Feb. 4th? Yes, if they start things tomorrow or Thursday and then do a quick, two-week trial, it could be over by the beginning of February. All that gets thrown out the window if the Senate agrees to call witnesses. 

Are there any Republican Senators who need to recuse themselves from the Trump impeachment trial?

No, I don't think so, nor I don't see why they would have to. As I wrote in my 5-Minute Fix impeachment newsletter recently, senators take an oath of impartiality at the beginning, but it's a subjective oath. There is nothing in the Senate rules holding them to a certain standard and doling out punishment if they break said standard. 

A Lawyer on MSNBC was suggesting to just send the Article on "Contempt of Congress" which would bypass the witness question while holding "Abuse of Power" like a sword of Damocles. The Senators would be forced to vote a Guilty, but not removed like an OJ verdict. What do you think?

I think Pelosi's made her decision to hand this whole thing over to the Senate. She didn't get what she wanted, a confirmation of witnesses, but she does feel like she put more attention on how Senate Republicans are conducting this trial.

What do you make of GOP pushback on Trump's urging to dismiss the charges straight out? Does that indicate some vacillation on their part? In any case, they can only vote against removing him from office, not dismiss charges, correct?

Yeah, good question. I think two things: 1. Republicans worry what it would look like to an already skeptical public about their intentions if they voted to dismiss the trial rather than hear arguments from both sides. 2. Republicans feel like they can acquit Trump -- and thus clear him of the wrongdoing alleged by House -- for good with this trial. 

Any chance the Dems take the advice offered here in the post by George Conway Neal Katyal and send only one article now, and hold the other for a later date?

Just answered this above. I don't see any evidence they will; Pelosi just set things in motion to vote on sending over both articles to the Senate. Then again, I thought this push to hold the articles wasn't going to mount to anything either, so what do I know!

Amber, here in Wisconsin an appeals court has put a hold on the attempted purge of over 200K voters. Couple that with the GOP-led legislature's curbing of the governor's powers before Gov Evers took office after the 2018 election. Those who value democracy in Wisconsin need to fight back and make sure our voices are heard.

With impeachment and Iran and everything else going on, state political dramas are not getting enough attention! I agree on that.

And I just can't stand Biden. I am liberal but I'm okay with going middle of the road as long as we get Trump out of there, however I have never wanted Biden in the Oval office and certainly don't want him now. I align with Bernie well, but don't think he's a good choice and I worry about Warren. I like what she says, but think her plans are bad. I really like Andrew Yang. He goes for the tried and true (things that have worked in Europe), he's not overtly liberal, and I think he has the head to beat Trump. And he's young. I like young. His ideas are fresh. Why are we so opposed to fresh ideas? I just am so SO worried about two very, very liberal people running and people rejecting them out of hand.

You are not the first, nor the last, Democratic voter to be divided over what your head says (moderate-central candidate) over what your heart says (you like Bernie Sanders and/or Elizabeth Warren). This is the great challenge Warren and Sanders still have; to convince voters they can win in a national election while being pillars of the left. Sanders in particular has been campaigning on that since 2016. 

Amber, I'm not a big royals watcher, but do you think the Harry/Meghan situation was inevitable or could the royal family done more to push back against the tabloids? Is it correct to say that the tabloid pressure is the main reason they want to partially quit the royal family?

Ooh ooh I love me a royals question! (I don't have hobbies -- following these people is probably it. Does that count?)

I think the royal family was totally caught off guard for how to deal with racist attacks against Meghan Markle, and their strategy -- ignore it -- wasn't working. From other people's reporting, I understand that the decision to step back wasn't entirely because of the treatment they received in the tabloids, but it was a big part, or perhaps the precipitating factor.

Will the moderators bring up the question of whether a woman can be President of the US? (Which seems pretty awful to ask in a 2020 democracy, but...)

I mean, I think they have to talk about gender and electability  in some form tonight. But how to do that without coming across as, well, sexist? 

Is it too early to start thinking about candidate match-ups for the Dems? Here's my what-if for readers to shred: What if Biden gets the nomination and runs with Warren, with the proviso that he's a one-term president and she gets to run in 2024?

Interesting. Biden's been asked about whether he'd commit to a second term and focused his answer, as you'd expect, on just winning this election. He'd be 80, 81, running for a second term.

As a lifelong liberal Democrat, there are certainly candidates I would prefer this year for the nomination. BUT, nothing matters more than defeating Trump before he can do any more destruction to the world order, the environment, and the economic inequalities fueled by his tax policies.

And then I hear this a lot from Democratic voters. Heck, even from Democratic presidential candidates like Mike Bloomberg, who has said if he doesn't win the nomination, he'll pour his money into defeating Trump anyway. 

It's simpler to remember what Pete himself says: "It's Buddha-judge."

That must be a refined pronunciation guide -- they started out with t-shirts and a sign on their campaign wall with the Boot Edge Edge thing.

Do you watch the Sunday Political shows? This weekend we discovered how Trump is going to lie right to the faces of the media for the rest of his term. All he has to do is say the two magic words and wa-la. No lies. Who knew lying was sooooo easy. Man I sure wish I knew the two magic words when I was a youngster in trouble with mom. Yes mom, i ate pops dessert. I believed it was mine. See?

I think what you're describing is the power of a Jedi knight. Man oh man would politicians kill for that.

If the GOP really thinks Trump did nothing wrong shouldn't they be fine with witnesses if they believed nothing incriminating would come of it? It seems odd that they would insist he's innocent while also vehemently insisting no witnesses be allowed. What is their official answer to that because it's very contradictory.

Good question. They have yet to come up with an official reason, since McConnell's line is still that he wants to debate witnesses later, not that he doesn't want any at all.

Some arguments I hear Republicans coalescing around: They shouldn't have to do the House's work in investigating...if Democrats wanted to talk to these people, they should have waited for the courts to chime in...the Senate's job is to judge the evidence the House came up with. Stuff like that.

Have the Democrats call on ex-Rep. Duncan Hunter as a witness if he the GOP tries calling on Hunter Biden!

See, this is exactly what Republicans fear could happen if they open up witnesses -- a circus. It's a good way to convince on-the-fence Senate Republicans not to vote for witnesses.

I can live with voting for Biden. BUT can we please have a next generation VP? I can't see Warren signing on for VP. I'd love to see the current crop of younger candidates run in 2024, especially if the Dems elect one of the older crowd. And BTW I'm a 60+ white female.

Fair enough. I think a lot of campaigns have their eye on Stacey Abrams for VP. She's 46.

I’ve never really wanted Biden, but I’ve recently come to the decision that he has the best chance simply because he was the target of Trump, which resulted in impeachment. As he and his son are the victim of Trump’s corruption I think he could use that to destroy Trump in the debates.

I mean, Biden could also make the case that Trump is most concerned about running against him because the president went to such lengths to undermine his campaign.

That's interesting. I think most Americans would try to pronounce Edge Edge as two separate words with a glottal stop between them. "Buddha-judge" just looks easier, to me.


It used to be accepted wisdom that a President and VP nominee needed to be from very different states in order to draw maximum voters. But Clinton/Gore (from adjacent states) disproved that, and W/Cheney (who both lived in Texas, although Cheney got himself declared still a Wyomingan) seem to have put that bromide to rest. My question is whether a Biden/Booker ticket suffers any disadvantage from the two being from neighboring states (Delaware and NJ)?

I still think states matter, a lot. Campaigns want to maximize their leverage any way they can over the other side, especially in a potentially close election where you're trying to unseat the sitting president. 

Why does anyone surnamed Windsor bother to even glance at the tabloids, though? That's what I don't understand. Even so, once the Sussexes (Sussices?) made it plain that they were hurt, the palace should have come out swinging .

I can't begin to understand what it's like to read your name in the news every day (other than as a byline!). I think what made it impossible to ignore was how they dug into their family life, like obtaining a letter she wrote to her estranged father. 

Why is this absurd idea being floated around and is there any reason to think Biden is OK with it? I think it's a colossally bad idea to run under the promise that you won't seek re-election. Who wants to vote for someone they only want to be there for one term? I would guess very very few.

I mean, I don't think he's okay with running that way!

Great questions; there were several I didn't get to; my apologies. I've got to run to put together today's 5-Minute Fix newsletter about the latest on impeachment. 

Thanks for chatting everyone. See ya next week!

In This Chat
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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