Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: Does the 'average Joe' care about impeachment?

Nov 19, 2019

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Hello, everyone, and welcome to our weekly therapy session, where we try to make sense of all the insanity around us. Some of it, at least. This morning, we heard more compelling testimony in the House impeachment hearings, this time from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and State Department official Jennifer Williams. Both were on the July 25 phone call between President Trump and the new Ukrainian leader, and both were alarmed at the attempt to trade arms for dirt on Joe Biden. GOP questioning was smarmy but ineffectual, and at one point Vindman, who was awarded the Purple Heart for nearly getting killed by an IED in Iraq, sharply instructed Devin Nunes to call him "Lieutenant Colonel" Vindman, not "Mr. Vindman." This afternoon, we'll hear from two more witnesses.

And if you missed it, here's a link to my latest column. Let's get started.

FOX commentators tell us the average Joe doesn't care about impeachment and thinks it a waste of time and we hear the opposite from other media. On the list of the ten most important things going on to the average person, where do you think impeachment fits?

Affairs of state never rise above daily problems that have to be dealt with and needs that have to be met. That said, I realize that people who only watch prime-time Fox shows probably don't even know impeachment is happening. Those who watch Fox during the day, however, and those who pay attention to other news sources certainly know and care about impeachment, whether they think it's righteous or satanic or whatever.

Dare I ask what your take is on Trump's "visit" to Walter Reed?

I believe that whenever an obese 73-year-old man with a bad diet and a high-stress job makes an unannounced trip to the hospital, there's reason to ask what's going on. And given this administration's track record of lying, it's hard to believe them when they say it's just "routine."

Was Sen. Lindsey Graham's "I'm so done with it" diatribe genuine frustration, or a plea to Republican supporters to stop watching the hearings for fear that a Nixon moment might be forthcoming?

I believe Sen. Graham continues to play mostly to an audience of one. You know who.

Hello, Sir — May I just say THANK YOU for always bringing such clarity and wisdom to this challenging time in our history. You are simply the best. I’m wondering where you see all of this ending up in the Senate? Has the compelling testimony from these Patriots moved any members of the GOP toward holding Trump to account for his impeachable offenses? 

Thank you so much for your overly kind comments. I believe it is impossible to know what will happen. At the moment, it seems highly unlikely that the Senate will vote to remove the president. But we're just on the third day of public hearings, so let's see how things develop. A week ago, we were just learning of the overheard conversation between President Trump and Ambassador Sondland. The eavesdropper, David Holmes, is now scheduled to testify Thursday. What other unplanned witnesses will come before the House? Where is John Bolton and what might he have to say, given the chance? There's a lot we don't yet know.

One good thing that has come out of this mess is that I have a whole different view of (some) conservative columnists. Reading Gerson, Boot, Will and others made me realize I was pretty rigid in my thinking. I probably won't agree with them when Trump is gone but I know now that they are thorough thinkers and not the knee jerk, tow the company line, agree with anything Republicans do writers.

I've long admired the three writers you cite for their intelligence, wit, honesty and integrity. I don't know Max that well, but I consider George and Michael good friends as well as colleagues. We disagree on many things but we're all on the side of American democracy versus whatever this president is leading us toward.

I've seen the emails that GOP conspirators are sending around (a relative is a spam forwarder) and they have all this info about how the WB is a Democrat. At this point, does it matter? Does the corroboration by every other witness matter to these people? Republicans on the panel seem really bent on getting to out them, or they are trying to grandstand on the rules protecting them. BTW, Im referring to State Dept WB, not IRS.

Trying to impute dastardly motives to the whistleblower is part of the Republican attempt to convince the Republican base that there's nothing to see here except partisan rancor. The whistleblower's identity, of course, is entirely moot at this point. Everything he said (assuming it's a he, as Republicans suggest) has been corroborated, and then some. But the Republicans will persist, and eventually -- sadly -- I'm pretty sure the whistleblower will be outed and smeared.

Is the real reason behind Trump's moves in Syria and Ukraine a desire to please Putin, as both policies work to help achieve what Putin wants in both places?

Wasn't it Speaker Pelosi who stood up in a White House meeting, pointed at President Trump, and said, "All roads with you lead to Putin," or something like that? I confess that I just don't know what's the deal with Trump and Putin. I generally reject all conspiracy theories. I just don't know. I've heard that Trump has a weird affinity for strongmen leaders. Maybe he just looks up to little Vlad.

Hello there: Why doesn't anyone discuss "real" issues concerning the candidate and African Americans... such as the housing issues in South Bend, wherein Pete's plan to wipe out 1,000 properties in 1,000 days seemed to have run ram shod over the Black community. Or the police issues that have been mentioned, at least peripherally. In addition, he seems to have done little to nothing for African Americans in South Bend, where they seem to be at or "below" the bottom of the barrel. What's more during his time as mayor he never seemed to have addressed any of the disparities...in a town of 100,000...no less. Do people really think he cares now? His Douglass Plan would not exist were he not a candidate. Why do you think critics are so willing to suggest that African Americans are biased based on his sexuality rather than the fact that they are not interested based on his apparent disinterest in them ….when they really needed him in South Bend?

I believe African Americans are as open to Buttigieg's candidacy as any other group. They -- I should say we -- will look at his record, listen to what he says, assess his prospects of beating Trump and then decide whether or not to support him. 

Eugene, do you think the R's defense of Trump is based solely on their political ambitions and agendas? Also, in all of your years of covering Washington politics, have you ever seen such a circus? I fear it will take a lifetime for the US to get its standing back on the world stage.

There has never been such a clown show as the Trump administration, in my opinion. Certainly not in my experience. And how we will recover, both domestically and in world affairs, is a big and unanswered question. It may take a long time, because the damage is enormous.

Letting the voters decide is usually a pretty good idea, but in this case, Trump is inviting foreign interference in our election, and the the testimony from numerous people shows he is using American power for himself, not for America. If the President insists everything he is doing is ok, can we afford to let him keep doing it until January 2021? The Senate may not remove him, but the House still has to do it's job to defend America, doesn't it?

Exactly. Nothing in the Constitution says that high crimes and misdemeanors should be overlooked if there's an election coming fairly soon. The House has to do its job, and can't control what happens in the Senate. 

If President Trump were removed from office, that would not overturn the 2016 election as the Republicans would still hold the presidency. Pence would then choose a VP (w/the automatic consent of the GOP controlled Senate). If he were to choose a woman such as Liz Cheney or and African American such as Tim Scott, how might that impact the 2020 election?

I can barely figure out what's likely to happen next week, much less what would be the likely result of the sequence of events you describe. But you make a salient point, which is that all the rhetoric about "overturning" the election is ridiculous. The election happened. Trump won. He became president. And none of this would be happening if he had not committed impeachable acts.

Only a day or so after Kim Jong-un denounced Joe Biden, President Trump canceled US military drills with South Korea that Kim opposed. The temporal proximity seems suspect. Was this a "deliverable" for Trump?

I doubt this has anything to do with Biden. I think Trump wants to be able to announce some kind of North Korea deal and proclaim it as a foreign policy triumph. So he gave the North Koreans something they want. I'm doubtful he'll get what he wants in return.

Have we heard much about what Pence does or thinks about this? He seems completely sidelined.

The vice president does have a way of blending into the scenery, doesn't he? Maybe he's holed up in some secure undisclosed location. 

My sense, based on the previous two election cycles, is that the Republicans have effectively lost the Suburbs and the Soccer Moms, potentially for a generation. Why are Republicans seemingly ignoring this possibility by following the President off of his proverbial cliff?

Because President Trump still has the support of the Republican base, and if Republicans cross him they will be primaried by Trumpier-than-thou Republicans and probably lose. But it should be clear by now that they are shrinking the party, not growing it, and they ought to be in full-out panic over losing the suburbs.

And let's not forget Jennifer Rubin!

I'd never forget Jen!

It seems to me that when the White House Press Secretary related the news on the President's visit to Walter Reed, the media by and large reported it as-is without any real attempt to question the veracity of what was being related. Personally, I thought there was more to it than what was being told, and at least initially I couldn't find any non-fringe media source that was digging into this. Why did it take so long? More broadly, why does the media not question the facts given to it more before reporting same?

I disagree with you about the coverage. I think everyone questioned the White House account of the hospital visit -- that's why it got so much coverage in the first place. But we don't have subpoena power. We can't compel his doctors to tell us what's really going on. 

A pretty large chunk of the Senate (Warren, Sanders, Harris, Klobuchar, Booker and Bennet) is running for the Democratic nomination for president. How will the race be impacted if the impeachment trial in the Senate begins in January? Or right before Super Tuesday?

I doubt they will enjoy being in Washington rather than Iowa. Or New Hampshire. Or South Carolina. But life happens, and they'll just have to deal with it. I'm not sure this is a huge boost for Biden, Buttigieg and the other non-senators. It might be, but then again, public attention might be so focused on the Senate that the senator-candidates are getting valuable airtime that actually helps their campaigns. I just don't know.

With all of the late entrants into the presidential campaign, do you think there is a potential opening for someone like an Oprah Winfrey, or perhaps even Michelle Obama, to enter the race and essentially shut the whole thing down? Or, do you see a way forward between the arguably listless crop of Biden, Buttigieg, and Warren?

If Michelle Obama announced her candidacy tomorrow, I think she'd be the nominee. But she says she won't, and in my experience she keeps her word. Oprah's not a candidate, either. But we do have a new entrant -- Deval Patrick -- and Michael Bloomberg is probably not far behind. Who knows who else might try to get in? I just doubt it will be someone named Winfrey or Obama.

Her stunt-casting role may have won her plaudits from the Republicans on the committee, but you have to wonder how it will play in her home district, even if it is R-leaning. Her local paper said she was "sacrificing her integrity" and her potential opponent raised $1M this weekend.

She's making herself the darling of the Trumpian right but yes, I think she's wounding herself in her district, which is R-leaning but not R-safe by any means. Her opponent indeed raised a cool million in just a couple of days.

I have concerns about how media (mostly cable) will be able to repair the damage done by the constant barrage of negative comments about a free press. What is your assessment regarding how to build trust with the American public?

We just have to keep doing our job. If you can think of a more effective course of action, let me know.

Gene, you were too polite to correct the chatter who insinuated that the mayor has done nothing to help his black constituents, but that is a canard. It's fair to say he hasn't done as much as he could have (a complaint that applies to pretty much every politician in history), and some of what he tried didn't work--but as he explains in his memoir (Shortest Way Home), and the Post's own reporting has documented, South Bend HAS made progress. Not enough, absolutely, but more than many other places. As for the cheap shot about the Douglass Plan, would the chatter prefer Buttigieg just kept his mouth shut about so profound an issue? Sure seems like it.

Thank you for the counterpoint. We should all delve into Buttigieg's record and assess it. 

What do you think are the chances of Bolton testifying?

I don't know. I just think that -- reportedly -- signing a big-money deal for a tell-all book, but refusing to tell what he knows to the impeachment inquiry, is not the way he wants to go down in history. I'm confident of that.

 

And that's all for today, folks. Thanks for participating. One programming note: I'll be taking a little vacation around Christmas time, so no chats on Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve. Meanwhile, 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 2009, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns on the 2008 presidential campaign that focus on the election of the first African-American president. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America" (2010), "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson lives with his wife and two sons in Arlington.
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