Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: It’s looking like another Impeachment Week

Jan 14, 2020

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Hi, everybody. Well, it looks like we're going to have an impeachment this week. In addition to the election campaign. In addition to the question of whether or not we're having a new war. In addition to the continued burning of Australia. Etcetera ad infinitum... To say the least, we have a lot to talk about. Let's get started.

It is said that Nancy Pelosi doesn't make a move unless she has the votes. Does that mean she has the votes to ensure that the impeachment trial goes the way she wants it to go in the Senate, such as calling witnesses?

Speaker Pelosi indeed does not bring anything to the House floor unless she knows she has the votes to pass it. But that's the House, and you're talking about the Senate, where she doesn't even have a vote, much less wield the whip. My guess is that she believes she has used all the leverage she has, and further delay would be counterproductive. Before she decided to delay sending over the articles of impeachment, it was virtually certain there would be no witnesses. Now we have more incriminating witnesses, and I think it has become possible or even likely that there will be at least a few witnesses, including John Bolton. So, again, Nancy Pelosi knows what she's doing.

If the GOP insists on hearing Hunter Biden testify why not take them up on that as a trade to hear testimony from John Bolton? HB would be a big nothingburger circus while JB would be a potential blockbuster.

I'd make that trade. But I'm not entirely sure that McConnell is on board the idea of calling Hunter Biden. We'll see.

Why not develop a new convention for “real” digital news? Use red text for demonstrably false claims and yellow for partial truths. That way repeating the quote is is also showing that it is not true.

Interesting idea. I'm skeptical about the practicality of color-coding, but we shouldn't rule anything out, I guess. We need to surface as many ideas as possible and maybe test them out. I guess the other thing I worry about your color scheme, though, is whether psychologists might warn that red has more impact and thus we'd be reinforcing the lies rather than dismissing them.

Let’s face it, the Electoral College has made national elections a contest for who can win swing states with the result of that being issues that are important to everyone NOT in a swing state get short shrift. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work. Little slivers of constituencies get oversized attention. I think three things would go a very long way to fixing what ails us: eliminating the Electoral College, eliminate gerrymandering and reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine. That would help balance the Fox News/MSNBC echo chambers. Your thoughts?

I don't know if this is heresy or a statement against self-interest, but I miss the Fairness Doctrine. But what I miss is the way it worked back in the era when public officials were capable of feeling shame. Would that mean giving equal time to somebody like Kellyanne Conway or Stephanie Grisham, who feel no compulsion to tell the truth?

Yesterday Trump tweeted a photoshopped pic of Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Schumer in Muslim dress and it isn’t even newsworthy? If this was done by any President, including Trump in his first few months, heads would’ve exploded and it would’ve been News for a week. What do you think can be done about “Trump Fatigue”?

It is what it is. For the record, that was a retweet by Trump, but still. It was outrageous and disgusting and I can't believe the president of the United States would do such a thing. But here we are. He did it. All we can do is get him out of office.

Who do you see as the surprise candidate of the Iowa primary?

Here's the secret about the upcoming Iowa caucuses: Nobody, and I mean nobody, knows what's going to happen. The top four candidates are all within the margin of error, and Klobuchar is working hard to pull off an upset. And caucuses are notoriously difficult to poll, because Iowa Democrats don't just have to go to a polling place and cast a vote. They have to spend an evening engaged in a convoluted process, in the middle of the winter, when one bad storm could change the result. So anybody who tells you confidently they can predict the outcome this year is blowing smoke.

Do you remember when a bunch of Italians kept warning us in America to not repeat the mistake they did with Silvio Berlusconi by taking Donald Trump seriously. Except now everybody takes his deadly seriously. The fun of Donald Trump is long gone. You'd think that Donald Trump the vile buffoon who can't possibly win worked for him, but now he trying to set off wars haphazardly and does anything really think he can't win? Wouldn't it be better for his campaign if people did think he was a ridiculous dunce who just narrow won and won't again, but his ego won't allow that?

I think Trump's secret weapon in 2016, and maybe his biggest weapon, was being underestimated as a ridiculous clown. That won't happen this time -- which is bad news for him.

Even if Bolton testifies, he may lie under oath with the knowledge of a pardon in his pocket. Do you think this is possible?

No. I think Bolton will tell the truth under oath. Maybe not the whole truth, but I don't think he will lie. That said, I don't believe anyone knows exactly what he will say. He has never denied having called the Ukraine shakedown a "drug deal," and I think he would have spoken up if he wanted to dispute that fact. My question is whether he will directly implicate the president or lay blame on Mulvaney and others.

This is a carryover from Amber's chat. I am against her as a VP candidate. She's the right generation (the purpose of the question/answer if the Presidential nominee is geriatric), but I just don't care for her. She lost a close election, perhaps by fraud, but that alone is not qualifying. I get a little too much, "me, me me" vibe from her. Am I missing something?

Stacey Abrams is an electrifying candidate who, if on the ticket, would put Georgia in play -- and who would help motivate the Democratic base around the country. That said, I'm on record as saying I really wish she had run for the Senate.

Is he a viable VP choice? Would he be able to deliver the 38 TX electoral votes?

Beto O'Rourke found his voice too late in the campaign, but he could be impressive as a vice presidential candidate, and he would make Republicans spend lots of valuable time and money defending Texas. That said, I'm on record as saying I wish he had run for the Senate.

Voters will be sexist and racist. And every other ist or ism that exists. I expect the eventual Democratic nominee to know this going and and have a plan. Oh, and prepare for the EC because that is how the race is won.

The Democratic candidate will have to deal with the situation as it is, not as he or she might wish it to be.

Hi Gene -- thanks as always for taking questions today. The strategist Rick Wilson was on MSNBC last night and in his usually colorful way asserted that if Bernie is the nominee the Democrats can kiss 2020 goodbye...and in a big way, with Trump taking upwards of 45 states. But then Bret Stephens, another Republican (though a never Trumper like Wilson) said in the NYT thinks it's not out of the question that Bernie could take it. What say you?

Rick is a machine for generating fabulous one-liners and also a real political pro who knows a lot. That said, there's no way Trump wins that bigly over anybody. I'm not sure that Bernie is the Democrats' strongest candidate against Trump, but it's possible that this is a year when any mammal with a pulse could win 270 electoral votes. Head-to-head polls show Biden doing better but Bernie certainly holding his own.

It is kind of weird how effective the attack on Biden has been in that this Ukrainian energy most Americans had never heard of is just now synonymous with corruption. I mean having worked a bit in the Third World, it's fairly mild corruption and the stuff with Trump Cabinet Secretaries is kind on par with it, but still people act like they are talking about olive oil business in "The Godfather" movies.

Trump set out to smear Biden with Burisma and ended up getting him impeached. So if that's a victory, it's more of the Pyrrhic variety.

From an Aaron Blake article this week: "Nearly 4 in 10 black voters say they would either not vote or vote for someone else if Buttigieg were the nominee.". If those numbers don't change, is Buttigieg un-electable?

I'll be honest, that's a real problem for him. Those numbers would change if he were the nominee -- there's not going to be any African American groundswell for Trump -- but you have to wonder about turnout. If Hillary Clinton had gotten a couple hundred thousand more votes out of Milwaukee, Detroit and Philadelphia, she'd be planning her reelection strategy right now.

This stuff about the 2003 Iraq vote feels like "Oh this matter in 2008 primaries so it must matter again" except the guy who made this a central issue then made Joe Biden his running mate, Hillary Clinton his Secretary of State and when she resigned replaced her with John Kerry. Also feels very late in the game for Bernie Sanders to start bringing it up so much and it highlights if foreign policy really matters to you, it's one of Bernie Sanders' weakest areas in his records in that it shows he really didn't care much about it. I get he knows this was a weakness of his in 2016 and tried to correct that and a lot of left-leaning foreign policy buffs are liking it, but his record shows he never knew or cared much about foreign policy.

 I don't blame Sanders for seeking an edge. But I doubt the Iraq war vote is going to be dispositive. We've already litigated that issue, I believe.

The media still seems unprepared to report on Trump without amplifying his message. They are sticking rigidly to the idea of fairness, in reporting everything a gaslighting liar says. He was given billions worth of free advertising in 2016, and now, his every insane comment is rebroadcast by media, usually without equal caution that he has lied, yet again. He campaigns and governs by gish gallop. I find it distressing that media hasn't even bothered to explain what the term means.

"The Gish gallop is a technique used during debating that focuses on overwhelming an opponent with as many arguments as possible, without regard for accuracy or strength of the arguments." 

What, if anything other than shooting someone on Fifth Avenue, could Trump do that might lose him substantial support of the MAGA faithful?

What makes you think that shooting someone on Fifth Avenue would do the trick?

Why would Bolton lie under oath? As far as I know, there's no love lost between him and Trump, so it's kind of hard to see him getting a pardon. And besides, in order for him to get a pardon, he first has to be convicted of perjury -- and who's going to prove he perjured himself if he's the only witness who testifies? I'm just disgusted that he played legal games, "waiting for guidance from the courts," and then, when it was too late, suddenly became willing to testify in the Senate -- a safe willingness, because in what universe does anyone see McConnell allowing him to be called?

I try never to underestimate McConnell, but I don't see how he can be confident at this point that he has 51 votes to keep Bolton off the stand. Maybe he still does. But I wonder if Mitt Romney would be speaking so directly in favor of having Bolton as a witness if he didn't think that was at least a real possibility, if not a likelihood.

Regarding the lack of diversity for tonight's debate: should the "rules" be changed?

Hard to change them at this point. I wrote a column about the lack of diversity in this debate and emphasized that I don't see anything inherently unfair about the rules. Harris, Booker and Castro had their shot. (And I have no idea what Deval Patrick thinks he's doing.) But I will miss having diverse voices at this debate, especially since it's the last one before actual voting begins with Iowa. Put another way, I think it would be better for the party to have diversity on that stage tonight.

True, but what if she were the VP to a septuagenarian President who was unable to complete his term? I'm not convinced that Abrams has sufficient experience YET to assume the Presidency. Booker or Castro seem like more qualified VP choices.

In terms of experience, they certainly are.

If Bolton is subpoenaed, and actually comes to the Senate to testify, what's to stop Trump from declaring that all his conversations with and around Bolton are priviledged? Seems to me it would go to the courts and take a long time to resolve...how would that affect the Senate trial? Thanks or you great work

Bolton is a private citizen and if he wants to testify, I don't believe Trump can stop him. Perhaps there's a legal expert among us who can elucidate?

I cannot imagine a scenario where McConnell would allow testimony from anyone who would be able to sway enough votes to remove Trump, and whatever outcome happens short of removal, Trump will say he is complete exonerated and that he is the most transparent...etc etc. The cycle is both ridiculous and exhausting.

Of course Trump will claim exoneration and vindication. But he has been impeached, and he will have been put on trial. Try as I might, I can't see how that could possibly be a political plus for him. "Impeached But Not Removed" is not a great bumper sticker.

Can Bloomberg's money deal a decisive blow to Trump and downstream GOP candidates in 2020?

This is an interesting question, and may become a vital question later this year. Bloomberg has shown that money matters. He can spend amounts of cash this fall on anti-Trump advertising and organizing that the incumbent can't possibly match. That could indeed make a difference. Way too early to even guess whether it could be decisive.

Do you realize how this sounds? Would you say, "I just don't care for him" about, say, Pete Buttegieg?

I've heard people say that about pretty much all the candidates. I've also heard people say the opposite about pretty much all of them. Voters form impressions. They just do.

Do you think the media has created a self fulfilling prophecy for him? The constant stories of his low support with minorities may have people now saying "well if he has such low support with minorities, I won't vote for him" without really understanding why?

Another interesting question. I'd have to say maybe. 

I suspect that African-American and Hispanic voters are culturally less inclined to vote for a gay candidate for President. I'd vote for him, but am pretty sure some of my fellow-Hispanics wouldn't.

I always rejected this notion, but the recent Washington Post poll of black voters indicated there's something to it. So we have to look it in the face. Buttigieg would have to reassure the nation about his gayness the same way Obama reassured the nation about his blackness. 

We have now seen multiple columns where Republicans have begged for the Democratic party to nominate "someone they can vote for." This is such a bogus argument. They think they can dictate how the Democratic party moves forward when they are responsible for our current scenario? There is only one choice - vote for the Democratic candidate over Trump regardless of who it is. How do we get people to see that?

Just say it in plain English. Like you just did.


That's all for today, folks. Our time is up. Thanks so much for participating, as always. I'll be writing a column tonight on the debate, so watch for it. And come back for another lively chat next week, when the impeachment trial is likely to be in full swing!

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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