Eugene Robinson Live (March 21)

Eugene Robinson
Mar 21, 2017

Chat with Post columnist Eugene Robinson about his latest columns and political news today at 1 p.m.

Read Eugene's latest: Does the FBI’s trail lead to Russia?

Hello, everyone, and welcome to our weekly gathering. Anything going on these days? This is already one of those drinking-through-a-firehose weeks, and it's only Tuesday. Only Tuesday. Yesterday we heard the FBI director reveal that he is conducting a criminal investigation into the Trump campaign's contacts and possible collusion with Russians who meddled in the November election. Wow. That totally overshadowed another huge (and ongoing) news event, the Senate hearings on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. And this morning President Trump went to Capitol Hill to try to bully recalcitrant House conservatives into voting for the GOP bill to replace the Affordable Care Act. That showdown is scheduled for Thursday. Since the House is basically a dictatorship, I think it's likely to pass. But the fact that the outcome remains up in the air at this late date says a lot about what a fiasco this could ultimately be for the Republican Party. Aides have been able to keep the president from making things worse on Twitter so far today, but it's early. Let's get started.

How confident are you that our political institutions can handle the investigations into Russian interference in our 2016 Presidential election and the possibility of collusion by members of the Trump team in that interference? Can partisanship be overridded by the need for oversight and by the need to get to the bottom of this extremely troubling crisis? Thanks.

I think you saw a preview of the GOP stance yesterday: It's not about what actually happened, it's about the leaks. I think that will be the Republican position until and unless evidence becomes overwhelming that there was collusion, at which point I think the dam would have to break.

Ack! Under what authority does an unpaid (theoretically) daughter of the president get access to who knows what data? Who's next? What entity authorized this? Kinda figured himself would be a figurehead like W, but at least Cheney was elected! Who can stop this madness?

I'll take your last question first: I don't think anyone can stop it. If the president wants his daughter Ivanka to have an office and a top security clearance, he can make it happen. But yes, I think "Ack!" is a reasonable and proper response. I seem to recall that once upon a time, Ivanka and Jared said neither wanted clearances or positions, but I guess things have changed.

Trump is a big fan of "Old Hickory" Andrew Jackson. He needs a similar nickname, but one that won't be offensive to trees. I think "Old Mistletoe" works well. It is a parasite of trees, and it is traditionally linked to kissing without consent. What do you think? On another subject, do you read the comments on your columns? Do your colleagues at the Post? Thanks!

"Old Mistletoe" is not bad. Maybe others have different suggestions? As for the comments, sometimes I scroll through them and sometimes I don't. The key thing is not to let them get under your skin. That way lies madness.

Michael Eric Dyson has said, "Someone changed your diapers. And if that's the case, you ain't self made." "White culture" in this country didn't get there all on its on own. Native Americans were robbed of their land. Among other things, slaves picked cotton, and, just incidentally, built the white house. Chinese laborers built the railroad. What would we be eating today(and how much would we have to pay for it) without Mexican fruit and vegetable pickers? But those diverse cultures are not just about back-breaking labor. They are about American thought, informed by diverse histories and backgrounds. After the heartbreaking Supreme Court decision of 2000, I began to notice that all of the people speaking my mind on the TV news shows or in opinion columns were black. And while white Democrats were ready to roll over and play dead, but the black caucus persisted in calling out what they believed was an affront to our democracy. So I am respectfully asking: Do you understand something that white commentators and politicians can't possibly get?

It's not race or color, per se. That would ignore all of those who are not black but are "woke," in current parlance. I do think perhaps that African-Americans, given our history, may have been raised to harbor fewer illusions.

As I watched his rally last night on healthcare, I couldn't help but wonder how many people in the audience signed up for Kynect or the Medicaid expansion, and were cheering for having their health insurance taken away...sigh

Unbelievable. But this is the definition of a short-term strategy, because there will come a day when a lot of those people lose their insurance. What happens then? President Trump and the GOP own this issue now, and will get the praise or the blame for everything that happens.

. . . but the president promised health care for everyone, less expensive and no one would be worse off. This bill does NONE OF THAT. Aside from the cruelty of this bill, please explain how he is going to explain this at his next rally to his base. Truly, am I wrong here, this will not play well with his base, will it? This just seems like yet another unforced error, what are the politics/strategy behind it?

Trump's message to House members this morning was simple: Paraphrasing here: "We said we would repeal Obamacare. In the House you voted more than 50 times to repeal Obamacare. Now that we have the power to do it, you're better pull the trigger or the voters will punish us all." The problem is that the legislation itself is a total dog, in my opinion, and (as you point out) it does none of what Trump promised. Maybe he thinks people won't notice or care. I'm pretty sure he's wrong.

Eugene: Do you think the televised media should have a no-trump day? Quit broadcasting his dysfunction which he enjoys. Is it time for old fashioned print investigative journalism?

Old-fashioned print investigative journalism is alive and well. During Comey's testimony yesterday, much if not most of the time was spent talking about stories that appeared in The Washington Post and the New York Times. As for television, I'm sorry but I don't think there's going to be any moratorium on covering the White House. 

Do you think that Trump resistance is having an effect on policy thinking? Or is it only making us feel better that we are resisting?

It's only been two months. In my opinion, the whole point of the "resistance" is not so much to change policy in the short term. After all, Republicans control the presidency and both houses of Congress. If they want to pass a law, they can pass it. The point is to increase progressive involvement and participation at the grass-roots level. That may influence legislation -- when congressmen and senators hold town halls, for example, and hear from constituents angry about losing health care. But the bigger impact should come when progressives begin winning local and state-level elections. This should be a ground-up movement, not a top-down one.

Regarding the story in the Post this morning that Paul Manafort allegedly laundered money he received from Ukraine to hide it (with fake invoices, etc.)...from what you know of this, what are the odds that there will be charges brought? That this will be a full fledged scandal that will engulf the White House?

This whole thing is already a full-fledged scandal, make no mistake. There are a lot of people who worked on the campaign (some now working in the White House) who must be wondering today if they need to lawyer up. I'll bet some have already done so. An FBI investigation is a serious thing. They are going to interview people, lots of people, and if you lie to them you are committing a crime. No sensible person takes that lightly.

I realize you are not a psychiatrist, but can you speculate as to why Trump presides basically over twitter and not this country? I don't understand his addiction.

I believe the president sees Twitter as perhaps the most powerful weapon in his political arsenal, along with campaign-style rallies. I think he also tweets as a way of venting. He thinks he understands the medium better than the aides who (doubtless) are trying to wrestle away his phone.

Do you think that, in general, our news media are so enamored of the shiny objects that Trump tosses about (wiretapping claims, Russia, etc.) that they don't provide enough coverage of what Congress is up to while we are distracted? For instance, I doubt most people have any idea what Trumpcare could mean to them, such as how it will hurt seniors so that rates can be artificially held down.

If people don't know these things, it's not the fault of the news media, which have done innumerable stories about the many impacts of Trumpcare. Some stories are inherently DBI -- Dull But Important. We can put them in prominent positions, but we can't force people to click if they don't want to.

I'm not going to get myself into knots about Ivanka being an unpaid advisor with a security clearance. Hillary Clinton functioned as an unpaid advisor on healthcare (and other matters) during her husband's administration, and giving Ivanka an office (if not a salary and a title is just being upfront on her role as advisor. Finally, Ivanka is likely to push hard on matters such as paid family leave which otherwise would not move forward. So I have absolutely no issues with this.

Thanks for that historical perspective. 

Maybe not constitutional, but I don't know what else to call it. What happens as it becomes clear that substantial lawbreaking has happened among the administration (not being specific, just projecting possibilities) but because all of the officials responsible for prosecution are Republican, nothing happens?

I assume that if it's clear there was substantial lawbreaking, people will start getting indicted. And indictments do tend to make public officials reassess their positions.

These people didn't vote for Trump because they thought they would or wouldn't lose their Kynect or Medicaid coverage. They voted for him because he showed them the respect that the Democratic nominee and party did not. I strongly suspect that most of them would prefer to lose coverage than have Hillary Clinton in the White House.

I'm not sure that's true, but in any event the choice you posit is no longer relevant. Clinton lost. Trump is president. The question is whether those people want to keep their health insurance or lose it. 

Hi Gene, I'm a big fan from the Texas Panhandle. I was curious what your thoughts were on or what you are hearing on the chances that the GOP health care bill passes the Senate. Best wishes, Robert

The bill that Speaker Ryan wants to send out of the House would appear to have no chance in the Senate without major changes. I think the Senate would essentially write a new bill, which then would have to go back to the House. At that point, the president would again do what he did today: Go to the Hill and threaten House members with political ruin if they don't pass it. I don't know if all of this will work, but it's possible.

Knowing what we know now regarding the timeline of the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign and their potential Russian ties, does it seem plausible that perhaps Comey went public with the possibility of reopening the Hillary Clinton email case out of an overabundance of caution anticipating scrutiny of the department from the right in the likely event that the Trump investigation may lead to charges?

I have no earthly idea why Comey does what he does when he does it. 

It was absolutely necessary to notify the public on the eve of an extremely important election that emails were found (without knowing whether they were duplicates, irrelevant, etc.) but not necessary to notify the public that Trump was being investigated for colluding with a hostile foreign government to sway the election? What possible explanation is there for Comey's behavior?

See previous answer.

A number of people are questioning whether or not Trumps tweets can be used as evidence in a court of law, say in the case of the travel ban. However, I was struck by this quote from Trump the other day (When asked whether he ever regrets his tweets). Trump said, “Very seldom. Probably wouldn’t be here right now, but very seldom. We have a tremendous group of people that listen, and I can get around the media when the media doesn’t tell the truth, so I like that.” Doesn't this statement alone suggest that his tweets are indeed reflective of his true intentions and beliefs and are on par with any official statements?

I'm not a lawyer so my views on this question are unencumbered by actual knowledge. It is clear that the judges who have looked at the travel ban thus far believed they had the right to take the president's campaign statements into account, though I don't know if they have cited tweets. My view is that statements about executive orders or legislation by the president, in any venue, would seem to be germane.

So 2015- Marriage equality finally became legal nationally. I'm no legal expert, so when I hear LGBT friends worry it can be undone and wonder if they should hurry marriage plans...should they worry? The Supreme Court has ruled, but with the GOP controlling all branches of Gov...can it be undone? Sent back to states for decisions?

I doubt the Supreme Court will backtrack. And even if Congress were to try to undo marriage equity (which I think is unlikely), I'm not sure President Trump would sign such legislation. 




Is there a Republican House or Senate member who is so secure politically and personally that s/he would publicly defy Trump?

I think the question isn't how secure those members of Congress feel but, rather, where they believe their self-interest lies. If it's with Trump, they'll support him. If not, they won't.

I agree with Gerson's sentiment that the office of the presidency is appearing to become increasingly smaller each day. Will America ever be able to recover from the damage that Trump is wreaking on the institution? Will we ever be looked at the same by the rest of the world? How could we have gone from someone so admirable to someone so peevish and small?

That's an excellent question. Someone tweeted the other day that when you saw President Trump meeting with Angela Merkel, you saw the leader of the free world -- and, sitting beside her, President Trump. The president's pettiness diminishes the office. But the United States is still the world's biggest economic and military power, so I don't believe the damage to American stature ned be permanent.

That's all for today, folks. My time is up. Thanks for participating, as always, and I'll see you again next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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