Politics Live with The Fix

Jun 18, 2020

Got a burning politics question, or just something you’re curious about? Each week, starting Thursday at noon, The Fix team chats with readers about the big stories in politics.

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Hello chatters, 

It’s been another newsy one. The Fix has been particularly keyed in on the three biggest stories in Washington this week: Policing reform policy, the Supreme Court’s big decisions  (including the one earlier this week on LGBT discrimination protections and the DACA ruling that just came this morning), and John Bolton’s memoir full of allegations about President Trump

 We’re a smaller crew than usual today but Amber Phillips, JM Rieger and I are ready to dive into your questions while Aaron Blake and Eugene Scott are away. What’s on your mind? 


So Senator Graham stated that it would be a success if there were less than 120,000 deaths and more than that would have a negative impact on the election. Has he revisited that assessment now that we are nearing that number?

Good question. I have not heard him talk about that yet. 

But I also think many Americans would question the premise of his definition of success: more than 100,000 Americans dead?

Graham's exact quote from mid-May was:

“The closer you can have it to 120 [thousand deaths], I think you can say you limited the casualties in this war.”

The Trump administration has tried to stay away from putting firm markers in the ground on what death toll would be considered a success, though Trump has repeatedly revised his death toll predictions as the death toll has risen.

But given that some models are now predicting the U.S. could hit the high-end of Trump's previous death toll predictions before the end of the year (above 200,000 deaths), it will be interesting to see if/how the rhetoric of Trump and his allies shifts.

Thanks to all of you for taking questions as we near the end of yet another consequential week. How do you all expect Senate Republicans to react to the allegations in Bolton's book? More hurried sprints to the nearest exit with the usual mumbles of " haven't seen it," "no comment," "late for lunch"? If I recall correctly, Republicans were quite happy when Bolton signed on with Trump, because he was a known quantity and a grown up with lots of government experience. That would seem to make it harder for Republicans to discount him with accusations of lying, "sour grapes," etc., though given their fear of crossing Trump, it wouldn't surprise me if they did.

Thanks for asking questions.

Yeah, I fully expect them to dodge/ignore/downplay Bolton, which is made easier by the fact this is coming in a book -- rather than, say, testimony directly to them.

You're right that Bolton's background as a staunch conservative who worked in the W Bush administration makes it harder for Republicans to discount what Bolton is saying. But I'm also skeptical that had Bolton testified during impeachment, it would have swung 20 Republicans over to the side of convicting Trump and kicking him out of office. Staying in power is a powerful motivator, as I wrote today. 

Will the House and Senate, with their dueling reform bills, be able to work together and come to an agreement?

I have seen a lot of speculation about who Biden might choose as his rinning mate, but I am more interested in when. What's your best guess as to when Biden might name his running mate?

Late last month, Biden said he hoped to name his running mate by August 1, which would be less than three weeks before the Democratic National Convention. It would also line up historically with when presidential candidates have named their running mates, as FiveThirtyEight wrote earlier this year.

Given this history, it seems unlikely that Biden would name his vice presidential pick before late July at the earliest.

Which state(s) that voted for Trump in 2016 are most likely to flip to Biden in 2020?

Michigan seems to top that list, with polling in that state pretty consistently favoring Biden.

Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are the other two states Trump narrowly won in 2016 to win the electoral college, and they still seem up for grabs. Also I'd put Arizona on that list, with some polling showing Democrats doing well there in the presidential and a big Senate race. The really big deal for Biden would be Florida, which some polling shows him ahead in. 

Hello - How often is the VP pick analysis page updated? Was the last update June 5th? The more I learn about Susan Rice, the more I am intrigued with her as the potential pick. Each possible pick has some sort of baggage/drawback, but her considerable international creds would be a huge asset to the ticket given the diminished stature the US has around the world.

This is what you're referring to, and Aaron plans to do at least one or two more rankings before we find out who the pick is. Biden has said that will be around the beginning of August. 
Even since that list, we've learned more from our colleagues' reporting about who is still under consideration, and Rice is right up there.
We know what the big knock on her will likely be: Her involvement in Obama administration response to the Benghazi attacks is hay for Republicans. She's still been under the radar on these lists, but expect to see a lot more discussion of what she'd add to the tickets if she remains on a list that's gotta shrink fairly quickly.

I keep hearing that Trump is trailing Biden in the polls. But can we trust the polls, when they were so wrong about Clinton vs. Trump in 2016?

It is worth remembering that the national polls in 2016 were generally correct and were actually more accurate than other national polls in recent presidential elections.

Some of the state-level polls underestimated Trump's support, especially in the midwest.

But as my colleague Aaron Blake wrote earlier this week, Trump's polling -- including at the state level -- has gotten worse in recent weeks. There is also some evidence to suggest state-level polling has fixed some of the issues from 2016.

I was going to nominate Steve Mnuchin, since Treasury has had a big impact on the economic fallout from the pandemic. But refusing to be transparent about the PPP loans has dented his standing. Who would you nominate?

"Least ineffective" is in the eye of the beholder, but yes, Mnuchin's ability to work with Congress on Coronavirus relief spotlighted some of his negotiating strengths. There are a lot of cabinet members Trump supporters would think have been plenty effective at slashing regulations and rolling back Obama policies across the board. That's effective governing, from their perspective, and effective politics from Trump's. 

Perhaps a bit inside baseball, but how are the networks going to deal with election night coverage that may stretch out longer than usual?

It is definitely possible that we could either have a delayed call on election night or won't know who won the presidential election until days later depending on how much mail-in voting is expanded amid the coronavirus pandemic and depending what resources the federal and state governments put in place to tally votes. The Post covered some of these challenges last month.

In 2016, the election was called late and Trump did not give his victory speech until the early morning hours the next day. I would expect that all news outlets are preparing for this possibility again.

Why is the Left picking a fight over the Democratic nomination for the Kentucky Senate race?

I was talking to a Democratic strategist in Kentucky about this yesterday. It seems like one of McGrath's challengers, Charles Booker, just met the moment on racial injustice protests. He went to them in Louisville -- which has been the site of two horrific police murders, including Breonna Taylor, and said a few words. McGrath did not. And she said at a debate that she was home with family issues rather than going to the protests. 

I'm not saying Booker will win the primary (which is next week, but mail voting has already started). But he's getting a noticeable surge -- and national attention.

I don't go in for the internet conspiracy theories about Trump, but after his unplanned trip to Walter Reed in November, the story about it being a physical in two parts, and now his trouble bringing a glass of water up to his mouth with just one hand and awkwardness walking down stairs, is the media going to put focus on Trump's health?

There are some obvious sensitivities about reporting around physical and mental health, even of public figures. But there's also a public interest in the health of the president in particular, and, in the case of the Walter Reed trip for example, the explanation that it was part of a physical leaves room to demand more transparency. 

And so, yes, the media will absolutely pursue answers about those things, but you'll only read what we can learn and say with certainty. It's extra hard to get that in this type of story, and it would be extra egregious to misreport on it. 

Assuming Democrats win the trifecta, what's more likely: DC statehood or packing the Supreme Court?

Well the House is voting next week on DC statehood -- but it would almost certainly get filibustered by Republicans once it made it to the Senate.

Putting more justices on the Supreme Court doesn't require a law change; you can just do it by nominating them and then having the Senate vote to confirm them. That also doesn't require a filibuster anymore after Republicans changed the rules to put Gorsuch on the court. So... I guess I'd say packing the court.

Do states wait to count early votes until election night, or are they allowed to start counting as soon as it comes in?

Advocates for mail voting say it's best practice to start counting as soon as votes come in, so that you're not backlogged. But not all states allow this. (I'm not sure which states.)

That could put us in a situation where in some states we have two results: The in-person voting that comes in that night, and then mail in voting that comes in days or even weeks later.

The Washington Post/ABC Poll showed that Trump voters are twice an enthusiastic as Biden's. Biden's fund raising has increased but the RNC raised 14 million dollars in one day (Trump's birthday). More than 100,000 want to attend the upcoming rally. Do you think enthusiasm is going to be a major factor in this election?

Aaron wrote about this earlier this month.

In short, the enthusiasm gap actually favors Biden when accounting for the 10-point lead that that Post-ABC Poll showed. If voters are not enthusiastic about voting and don't vote, that is one thing. But if voters are not enthusiastic but still vote, as some polling has suggested they will, that is another thing.

Wow, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of DACA recipients. That's two major blows against Donald Trump this week--from a conservative-leaning Supreme Court, no less!

After the DACA ruling, Trump tweeted -- this is not a joke -- "Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?"

What are the chances that the book gets published and the government seizes any profits? I welcome the stories being out there but Bolton's been obnoxious enough without his sanctimonious "the House asked the wrong questions" jazz. I'd hate to see him profit from his hypocrisy (though he probably will).

It's certainly possible and has happened before, though I couldn't tell you how likely it is. I've had this tab open to an Atlantic piece that makes the case it should be read even if you're loath to enrich Bolton, if this doesn't happen. 

I'm curious, outside the book profits, how this will impact Bolton's sway elsewhere. Will he be welcome in conservative circles where he's made his name? On Fox News? He took shots all around, as you say, so will be interesting to see what his lane is going forward. 

Can't someone file an injunction and let the case go through the legal system, ad infinitum, just like the issue of his tax returns?

Oklahoma residents did file a lawsuit this week, seeking a temporary injunction against the company managing the arena to stall or prevent Trump's scheduled rally in Tulsa on Saturday.

A Tulsa judge denied the request. You can read more about it here.

Soon to be released. What do you think will be the impact on the election? Further antagonize suburban women? Prompt some evangelicals to peel away?

I've been thinking about this. Chunks of Trump's base have been peeling away for the past two years -- suburban women helped Democrats win the House in 2018, and a number of high-profile evangelicals or evangelical publications have criticized Trump, especially since impeachment. Older voters, more directly affected by coronavirus, could be souring away from him, some polls have shown. So what on-the-line Trump voters might be left?

And while these books are the biggest yet to come out about Trump -- coming from some of the people closest to him yet to write about him -- I wonder if they could break through the average Americans' concerns about coronavirus/the economy/police brutality. 

The other thing that is on my mind is how Senators are treating this. Yes, they've got lots of incentive to remain on Trump's side, and as Amber wrote today, it's hard to see what Biden says now having made a difference back in February on many of those impeachment votes. 
Now though, the political headwinds are pretty  forceful against Trump. I do wonder if some will find here more reason to distance themselves. They are more of a barometer at this juncture, so close to the election, than an accountability mechanism.

It's not uncommon for people stating they will not run for a political office or accept a VP invitation, if asked, to change their minds. I personally believe she could be the strongest choice for him. What do you think?

It just doesn't seem like a possibility right now. Unless our reporting and others' has missed something, his team isn't seriously looking at her. 

Ann Selzer dropped a poll on Saturday showing Theresa Greenfield up 3 over Sen. Joni Ernst. Is that a "hit the panic button" moment for the GOP -- a relatively inoffensive incumbent in a state trending red down already to her challenger, who needed help to win the primary?

Democrats have been arguing to me for months now that Joni Ernst in Iowa is vulnerable in the right conditions. Could coronavirus/economic fallout be those conditions? Maybe. I don't think it's a "hit the panic button" moment for Republicans -- I've had Iowa on my top 10 list of Senate races even before coronavirus. But it means Democrats are in the position they need to be to take advantage of a good election and win back four seats to win the Senate majority. 

How surprised were you that this conservative Supreme Court voted to continue DACA protections? I was astounded, in a good way.

Not super surprising in some ways: this liberal justices + Roberts bloc is one we've seen before on big decisions. Gorsuch breaking with that bloc earlier in the week on LGBT discrimination was a bigger surprise, though not for close court watchers who heard his questioning in oral arguments. It's certainly a shock to some systems, with the current composition, to see two back-to-back decisions not go the administration's way, when Trump tried mightily to craft a court that would deliver what his base wants. 

Maybe it happens but why don't reporters rephrase the question to GOP members. Rather than "have you read the Bolton book/stories" ask something like "are you concerned that Trump allegedly asked a foreign power to help get him reelected?" Maybe even "why is the GOP so afraid to answer questions on Trump's conduct? The GOP had no problem questioning Clinton's conduct?"

Maybe, but we are -- what three years -- in to reporters chasing Senate Republicans down to get their take on a Trump controversy? Republicans are practiced in the Art of Dodging. 

"You're talking about Bolton's book? Yeah I'm not going to comment on it." 

The Biden campaign is being criticized for proposing 300 million dollars in additional funds for community COP program. Do you think Biden will back down on this?

Well, the criticism he's getting is from activists on the left who prefer not to give police more money. Given the "defund the police" call is widely unpopular, I don't expect Biden to start talking about giving police less funding. 

An independent ethics commission in Colorado said Hickenlooper violated state law on gifts when he was governor and also compared a job of a political scheduler, saying " We elected officials are the ones that are rowing. Hickenlooper was also held in contempt for not showing up for first day of hearings when he was subpoenaed. How successful will his primary challenger Romanoff be in trying to leverage all of the above against his opponent?

You're talking about controversies from  Democrats' top candidate to take on Sen. Cory Gardner in Colorado's Senate race.

I looked at these controversies this week. They're not great for Hickenlooper, but I don't think Hickenlooper is in any real trouble of losing the nomination to Romanoff. Democratic voters have been hearing for months now that Hickenlooper is the best candidate to take on Gardner, and he's so well known as the state's former governor. Partisanship and the desire to win is a powerful motivator.  

All of the democratic candidates that dropped out raised a bunch of money. What happens to that money now? Does it go to Biden? Other democratic races? Do the dropped candidates get to use it, decide where it goes? What happens to all of that money?

Candidates must adhere to federal election rules when spending the money but they can keep the money in their campaign account and use it for future elections or transfer it to other candidates, among other things.

Here are the Federal Election Commission rules for this.

I'd also point you to The Post's campaign money video series which covers a lot of common questions about campaign finance.

Hi, Amber! When is your next update on likely Senate seats due to come out? And will Natalie be sending you out on the trail this summer or fall to get a good taco -- I mean, to cover any of those races on the ground?

Hey! Probably in the next month or so. But if I were to change anything in the rankings now, it would be to make Iowa and Ernst more likely to flip to Democrats than Michigan to flip to Republicans. (Though I still think it's a strong possibility that both incumbents win in those states.)

As for the campaign trail, I wish. But probably not this summer with coronavirus. We'll see what the fall looks like.

Would it be safer if the Tulsa Rally was restricted to exclude people over the age of 70?

I saw that James Lankford, one of the US senators from Oklahoma, urged people over a certain age not to attend. But there are no restrictions. In addition, the Trump campaign will be doing temperature checks and handing out masks -- but not requiring people to wear them. 

Rather than asking "what do you think of X" why don't the reporters say "so and so said such and such today in ___; if that is true, what do you think of it" - or something like that? It seems like the reporters' phrasing lends itself to republican games of dodge ball.

Easier said than done! Reporters are trying to nail down senators who would rather be anywhere else and who are surrounded by aides, and they are trying to get the goods while they are surrounded by competitors. In other words, word economy is important, and we all know these folks know what they're asking about unless they are being willfully ignorant. 
That said, reporters have tried everything to corner senators on these dodges. Last week, a reporter took to carrying a print out of Trump's tweet with a conspiracy theory about a Buffalo protester so senators couldn't say they haven't read it. They still tried to. 

Does Jamie Harrison have a snowball's chance in... South Carolina?

There is such limited polling on this Senate race in South Carolina (Lindsey Graham's reelection) that I don't have a ton of data to support my opinion, but: I doubt it. Democrats are more focused on putting their resources into making one of two (or maybe both) Senate seats in Georgia competitive, which they would likely need to take back the majority. 

Ever since the virus was identified we have not heard one word about the status of the immigrants held on the border. Are they testing for the virus? How many adults and separately how many children have been diagnosed with Covid-19 and how many have died from it?

The Post reported in April that the U.S. has deported dozens of migrants infected with the coronavirus. Outlets have since reported that deportations have soared above 20,000.

NBC News reported last month on the conditions migrants are facing at the border. And other reporting has indicated that many migrants have been blocked from entering the U.S. or from receiving humanitarian assistance under a public health directive from the Trump administration.


Is the House likely to call him to testify based on his statements in his book? Rep. Schiff seemed to hint at that. If he did, what might be gained? Or does it just make the Democrats look like they're trying to have another go at Trump after impeachment failed and it won't change any minds anyway?

Yeah, some top Democrats seem keen on trying to get him to talk to them. But last time, during impeachment, Bolton threatened to sue if they subpoenaed him, so Democrats didn't issue a subpoena. It still remains a mystery to me why Bolton didn't talk then if he was willing to write all this in a book -- and accuse Democrats of impeachment malpractice for not investigating it -- but could those same sentiments play a role in Bolton not testifying to the House again? 

It seems a foregone conclusion that the Democrats will win the House, but is there a goal beyond 51 percent? Is there a super majority like in the Senate?

No super majority, but there are political reasons Pelosi would want as big a caucus as possible. A faction equivalent to the freedom caucus or tea party on the left hasn't been as disruptive to her agenda as those were to Republicans during their recent majorities, but more numbers of Democrats mean less a chance there are hangups driven by divisions within the caucus. 

That's a wrap. Thanks for joining us -- see you 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.
Aaron Blake
Aaron Blake is senior political reporter for The Fix. A Minnesota native, he has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Hill newspaper.
Eugene Scott
Eugene Scott writes about identity politics for The Fix. He was recently a fellow at the Georgetown University Institute of Politics. And prior to joining the Post, he was a breaking news reporter at CNN Politics.
JM Rieger
JM Rieger is the video editor for The Fix, covering national politics. He joined The Washington Post in 2018. Previously, Rieger worked as a video producer covering national politics for HuffPost. He began his career as a video editor covering Congress for Roll Call.
Natalie Jennings
Natalie Jennings is editor of The Fix. She has been at The Washington Post since 2010 and was previously a senior producer for Post Video.
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