My Reaction to the Sixth Democratic Debate
Bevin Defends Pardon of Child Rapist
The Sixth Democratic Debate
Evangelical Magazine Calls for Trump’s Removal
Trump Isn’t Impeached Until House Tells Senate
Prosecutor Scrutinizing Ex-CIA Director Brennan
• Trump Wanted to See George W. Bush Impeached
• Giuliani Pal Lev Parnas Received $1 Million from Ukrainian Oligarch
• Things to Watch in the Democratic Debate
• Trump Will Use Transgender Rights as a Weapon in 2020...
• ...And Democrats Will Counter with Healthcare
• Good News and Bad News for Paul Manafort
• Collins Will Run for Reelection
Last night, at around 8:30 p.m. ET, the House of Representatives impeached Donald Trump. It was a moment both inevitable and historic.
Although "debate" was scheduled to last for six hours, it actually lingered on for more like eight. Then, it took about half an hour to vote on the two articles (one at a time), followed by a press conference featuring the Democratic leadership in the House. That's about 10 hours of stuff; enough that even most of the Representatives did not sit through it all (the exception: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, who was on the floor of the House all day long). Anyhow, here are the five most notable things about Wednesday's proceedings:
- The Posturing: The "debate" portion of the day wasn't really debate, it was members of
the two caucuses trading off as they gave partisan speeches. Sometimes it got snippy, as when House Judiciary
Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), with some justification, of spreading Russian propaganda. That caused Gohmert to shout and
gesture at Nadler from the House gallery, despite such behavior being verboten. Ultimately, the primary takeaways from
the "debate" portion of the day were: (1) the two parties aren't just disagreeing on interpretation, they literally have
two different realities in which they are living, and (2) for people who are professional politicians, these folks are
mostly very bad public speakers. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is so boring he could have put himself to
sleep. Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) should find work as a carny barker. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is a
snake oil salesman.
- The Vote: It was almost entirely along partisan lines, of course. The Republicans remained
unified, and each of them voted "nay" on both of the two articles. Nearly all of the Democrats, along with Rep. Justin Amash
(I-MI), voted "yea." Rep. Collin C. Peterson (DFL-MN) and Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ) voted against both articles, although
Van Drew—of course—won't be a Democrat much longer. Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME) voted for abuse of power,
but against obstruction of Congress. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), as part of her ongoing effort to land a contract
with Fox News when her term is up, voted "present" on both articles. That means that the final tally for Article I
was 230 yea, 197 nay, 1 present and the final tally for Article II was 229 yea, 198 nay, 1 present. That adds up to
only 428, as two members are ill right now, one is not allowed to vote by virtue of his felony plea deal, and four
seats are vacant due to death or resignation.
For those who were watching carefully, Pelosi led a master class in the art of politics on Wednesday. As we note above, she made a point of being seen on the floor all day long, forestalling the possibility of criticism for not taking the process seriously. When it came time for the actual vote, Republicans wanted a roll call, but the Speaker was too sharp for that. She knows that while members cannot use footage from the floor in campaign ads, Super PACs are not similarly constrained. Pelosi did not want to hand them clips of Reps. Joe Bluedog and Josephine Centrist, from moderate districts in the heartland, standing up and declaring their support for impeaching Trump. So, the vote was done via the electronic devices installed in the House for voting purposes.
Pelosi also worked to communicate a consistent message throughout the day, which she expressed as: "This is a sad day for America, but a good day for the Constitution." That, of course, is a sound bite-y way of saying, "We didn't want to do this, but our constitutionally mandated duties forced us to." She quite obviously read her caucus the riot act, making clear that they were not—under any circumstances—to celebrate impeachment. The most interesting ten seconds of the whole day came when she formally announced that the first article had been approved, and that Donald Trump had officially been impeached. Her expression, at that point, was interesting. Was she struck by the drama of the occasion? Stifling a smile? Something else? All of the above? We've watched it a dozen times, and still aren't sure. You can see it for yourself in this video, starting at 2:20:
Whatever thoughts were in her mind, she certainly shut her caucus down pronto when some of them started to applaud. Note also the choice of a black dress—the color of mourning—as her attire for the day.
- The Power Play: In his (snooze-inducing) speech, Steny Hoyer suggested that the House should sit on
the articles of impeachment until they can be sure the Senate will conduct a proper trial. At the time, it seemed like
that was just garden-variety bloviating. However, in the press conference afterward, Pelosi pointedly
did not name
her impeachment managers, and said that would have to wait until she knew "what kind" of trial the Senate plans to
conduct. While she would not explicitly say that she would keep the articles of impeachment in a desk drawer for a
while, she also did not deny it, despite being asked at least four times. "We will make our decision as to when we are
going to send it when we see what they are doing on the Senate side," she explained. That leaves room for a lot of
possibilities, from "they'll get them on Monday morning" to "they'll get them sometime before the Fourth of July."
The general consensus—and Pelosi's words would seem to support this interpretation—is that she's using whatever leverage she has in order to push back against the overt displays of partisanship we've seen this week from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other members of his caucus, who have proudly announced they have no intention of being impartial jurors. The only problem with this consensus is that Pelosi doesn't have any real leverage here. McConnell has no particular interest in holding a trial, and if he said, "I have no interest in negotiating with you; feel free to hold onto the articles of impeachment as long as you want," what could she do? Weakening her hand even further is that Democrats have already made the explicit case, over and over, that this simply cannot wait. If they suddenly decide it can wait, while they light a fire under McConnell's feet, then people will wonder what other parts of the Democrats' case were just exaggerations and/or spin.
Our guess is that Pelosi primarily did this to buy herself a little time. In the last couple of days, McConnell has talked about ramming this whole thing through the Senate, and getting it done by Christmas. That's no good from the Democrats' perspective, and all Pelosi has to do is buy herself a few days to make it impossible. Actually, there's no particular need for her to hand over the articles of impeachment to the Senate until the new session starts on January 7. If she waits until then, she would forestall a before-Christmas trial, she'd get a few weeks of "McConnell better run a fair trial" headlines, and she wouldn't be wasting any time that wasn't already going to be wasted by the holiday break. But it's very unlikely that the articles of impeachment remain in her desk drawer beyond January 10 or so, because then she'd be in a game of chicken that she could not win.
- A Contrast in Approaches: The general emotion that Democrats tried to convey on Wednesday,
as we note, was remorse. "We don't like impeaching Trump—hate it, in fact—but we have no other choice,"
was the idea. The general emotion Trump and the Republicans tried to communicate was anger. "This is war against the Democrats, who
are trying to subvert the constitution and the democracy, and must be destroyed," was the idea.
The difference in approaches was perhaps most evident as the leaders of the two parties—Pelosi and Trump—invoked the memory of two recently deceased members of the House. For Pelosi, it was Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who helped lead the impeachment probe as chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee before his untimely death in October. In the post-vote press conference, the Speaker described her former colleague as "our North Star," and quoted him as saying, "When we're dancing with angels, the question will be, 'What did you do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?'" Pelosi concluded this portion of her remarks by declaring, mournfully, "We did all we could, Elijah. We passed the two articles of impeachment. The president is impeached." If you want to watch Pelosi's homage to Cummings for yourself, the video is here.
Standing in stark contrast to this was Donald Trump, who was in Michigan for one of his rallies. He took aim at Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), widow of former Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), who passed in February of this year. Noting the "A-plus treatment" he authorized for John's funeral, Trump expressed his irritation that Debbie would turn around and vote for impeachment. The President quoted her as saying, at the time of the funeral, "Thank you so much. John would be so thrilled. He's looking down." Then, Trump added: "I said, 'That's OK. Don't worry about it.' Maybe he's looking up. I don't know." Nothing classier than publicly attacking a still-grieving widow, and then implying that her husband may now be burning in hell. She's already responded, via Twitter:
Mr. President, let’s set politics aside. My husband earned all his accolades after a lifetime of service. I’m preparing for the first holiday season without the man I love. You brought me down in a way you can never imagine and your hurtful words just made my healing much harder.— Rep. Debbie Dingell (@RepDebDingell) December 19, 2019
The careful reader will note, incidentally, that Trump was exercising the powers of his office—any president would have granted the Dingell family any funeral they wanted, given his record-breaking 59-year career in the House—and then was angry that he did not receive a personal favor in return. That is a very interesting complaint for someone to make literally minutes after they were impeached for trying to use the powers of their office to extract personal favors in return.
- The Response from Trump: The Dingell bit is, quite understandably, getting the most play
when it comes to the President's rally, if for no other reason than it shows he is always able to find a way to
punch lower and lower and lower. However—and this should come as no surprise—the rally was a two-hour
rant, and was unusually unhinged, even by his standards. For much of the evening, he was so angry that he turned beet red.
Well, maybe blood orange red. He should be careful, or he'll have a coronary. Assuming he hasn't already had one, that is;
his mysterious visit to Walter Reed a few weeks ago has never really been properly explained.
Anyhow, the choice of venue for the rally was not an accident. Michigan, of course, is the state he won in 2016 by the narrowest margin (about 11,000 votes). Beyond the Dingell angle, there's also going to be a Senate race there that the GOP hopes to win. And the specific city—Battle Creek—has a pretty good name if this is the starting point for a "war." As a bonus, the representative for the district in which the rally took place is...Justin Amash. The event, which was entitled the "Merry Christmas Rally," was the kickoff for a series of anti-impeachment rallies and events planned by Trump, VP Mike Pence, and other underlings over the course of the next month or so.
Of course, rallies have only a limited reach. And so, another front in Trump's war on impeachment will be to get Republican officials to appear on national television and on local television in swing states to argue his case. They will focus on two talking points:
- Democrats have been talking about impeaching him since Inauguration Day
- House Democrats defended Bill Clinton in 1998, so they are hypocrites
Expect to see and hear these points made over and over in the coming weeks.
In any event, forward motion on impeachment has effectively ceased for now. It is unlikely that much of substance will happen until the new session of Congress commences in January. What that means is that politics-watchers should make sure they have some dramamine on hand, because we're all going to be subjected to three weeks of relentless spin. (Z & V)
Although Donald Trump is currently railing against the impeachment process as an attempt to undo an election, this was not always his opinion on the subject. In 2008, Trump, then a private businessman, was interviewed by CNN's Wolf Blitzer, and told Blitzer that then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi should lead the House to impeach then-President George W. Bush. Here is a video clip in which Trump argues that Bush should be impeached for lying (about the war in Iraq).
Check out this exchange I had with then private citizen @realDonaldTrump on Oct. 15, 2008. We spoke about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and he then offered his thoughts about impeachment. pic.twitter.com/mXlsG9SjbB— Wolf Blitzer (@wolfblitzer) December 18, 2019
What a difference a decade makes. And in case you have forgotten, George W. Bush is a Republican, so here is Trump telling a journalist that Nancy Pelosi should start the process of impeaching a Republican president for lying to the country. (V)
Ukrainian Oligarch Dmitry Firtash was indicted by the Dept. of Justice in 2014 for using U.S. banks to funnel money to Indian officials to bribe them into giving him licenses to mine titanium in India. Since then, Firtash has been fighting extradition to the U.S., where he would have to stand trial. Perhaps he thought that Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, could help him. Perhaps not. We may find out, though, because Firtash "loaned" $1 million to Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, who is currently under house arrest in Florida after having been indicted for campaign-finance violations. Parnas has indicated that he might be willing to spill some beans to help save his own neck. The beans could involve Parnas' work to help Giuliani dig up dirt on Hunter and Joe Biden.
The "loan" was carried out by Firtash's Dubai-based Swiss lawyer, Ralph Oswald Isenegger, who had the money deposited in the account of Parnas' wife, Svetlana Parnas, in five separate transactions in an attempt to hide the fact that it undoubtedly came from Firtash for the purpose of getting Parnas to ask Guliani to have Trump kill the indictment. Now that Parnas has been arrested and indicted and is threatening to cooperate with prosecutors, Isenegger wants the money back. Needless to say, there are a lot of fishy things going on here and if Parnas does indeed talk, he might have quite a bit to say. (V)
Seven Democrats will debate tonight in Los Angeles, now that a labor dispute at the venue has been solved and there will be no picket line to cross. The candidates (from left to right on stage) will be Andrew Yang, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN), and Tom Steyer. This will be the smallest number of people in a debate so far. Here are a few things to watch for:
- A lack of diversity: The Democratic field started out with a number of black and Latino
candidates. While some of them are still technically running, not making the debate stage today could be the death knell
of some of their campaigns, especially those of Julián Castro and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). Booker complained to
the DNC that it wasn't fair that he be excluded just because the voters don't want him, but it didn't work. All the
candidates tonight are white, except Andrew Yang, who is Asian. There could be questions about how the Democrats will
attract the votes of minorities if there are no minority candidates on the ticket. The answer could be: (1) a minority
running mate is still a real possibility, and (2) the reason few black voters are supporting Booker is that they prefer
one of the white guys, namely Joe Biden. The people who are complaining about the lack of minority candidates are
effectively saying: "Hey, the Democrats are supposed to be the party of identity politics, so what gives?" The answer
may be that although some politicians and pundits think identity politics are the way of the future, the voters don't agree.
- Buttigieg vs. Warren: Lately, hostility has flared between Warren and Buttigieg, because
the two feel they are competing for the same voters. The moderators may encourage them to duke it out. This wouldn't be
the first time they went after each other. Buttigieg has attacked Warren for supporting Medicare for All and Warren has
attacked Buttigieg for not coming clean about who he worked for when he was a consultant at McKinsey & Co. Of
course, neither candidate may take the bait and just talk about her or his preferred issues (but see health care below).
- The candidates will get more speaking time: With fewer candidates on stage, each one will get more speaking time than in the past. This could benefit the candidates with the least exposure so far, especially Amy Klobuchar and Andrew Yang. The debates could be crucial for those two in another way. It will be their biggest chance at fundraising before the quarter closes and reports are due shortly thereafter.
A problem all the candidates will have is debate fatigue. The second night of the Miami debate in June drew 18 million viewers. The most recent debate attracted only 7 million viewers. This one could draw even fewer. (V)
Sometimes Donald Trump (or his campaign staff) hits upon a winner: Something that excites his base and drives the Democrats wild. It would appear that Team Trump has come up with one of those for 2020. The plan, simple enough that even the President can execute it, is to attack transgender men and women. He also wants to change the interpretations of existing laws and regulations to make it legal for employers, landlords, companies, and others to openly discriminate against transgender people.
The point of this attack is that it splits the Democrats badly. Some Democrats feel that they need to defend every marginalized group, no matter how unpopular. Other Democrats feel that the top priority now is defeating Donald Trump next year, and doing anything that helps him get reelected must be avoided.
Trump, of course, fully realizes that while same-sex marriage is accepted now by a majority of Americans (some of them only grudgingly), many Americans feel that someone with XY chromosomes and all of the original equipment fully intact and functioning is a man, no matter how that person identifies. These people often very strongly believe that when you say you are a Republican or a Catholic or a vegetarian, then you are one, but you can't just one day announce that you are a woman and expect to be treated like one.
Therein lies the rub for the Democrats. If they support transgender rights, they may lose millions of centrist voters they desperately need to defeat Trump. If they drop support for transgender rights, voters who strongly support LGBTQ rights may stay at home on election day. By bringing this issue front and center, it forces the Democrats to make a choice they would rather not make.
Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton, and arguably the most famous modern philosopher, has weighed in on this by stating that choices have consequences:
As a consequentialist, I don't believe that the [Democratic] Party is obligated to support discriminated against groups regardless of the consequences. After all, the re-election of Trump, and Republican control of Congress, would be a greater disaster than the rejection of the legitimate claims of transgender people to express themselves as they wish.
He went on to point out that a victory for Trump could lead to the destruction of the planet, which could have catastrophic consequences for millions or billions of people.
On the other hand, Amie Thomasson, a professor of intellectual and moral philosophy at Dartmouth, completely disagrees with Singer, saying:
I think that however much Democrats may want to win, we must not lose sight of our moral compass—especially in times like this. The commitment to protecting the rights, equality, and well-being of everyone—not just those with power, wealth, or privilege—is absolutely central.
In other words, do what is right, and if that reelects Trump, so be it. Many other leading voices have also chimed in on both sides, as cited in the article linked to above. In short, Trump may have found a wedge issue that sets Democrat against Democrat to his benefit. (V)
The Trump administration, the attorneys general of a couple dozen red states, and many elected Republican politicians would like to kill the ACA. The honest ones are philosophically opposed to poor people getting a freebie (health care) they didn't "earn." The rest are just doing what their donors want, namely abolish the ACA so the rich donors won't have to pay the 3.8% surtax on dividends and interest that finances the health care for poor people. Opponents of the ACA found something of a loophole they think will allow them to do it. Part of what makes the ACA viable is that it requires all Americans to carry insurance, imposing a tax penalty for those who do not comply. Congress, as part of its tax cut for (mostly) rich people and corporations, set the tax penalty to zero. Consequently, argue the AGs and Team Trump, the individual mandate is no longer constitutional and should be struck down. They also say that since the mandate/tax penalty are integral to the law, the unconstitutionality of the penalty means the whole thing should really be struck down.
U.S. District Court Judge Reed O'Connor, a George W. Bush appointee who has earned the sort of reputation that has right-leaning plaintiffs moving heaven and earth to get their cases before him, agreed with these arguments and struck the whole law down earlier this year. The decision was widely criticized for overreach by legal scholars of all political stripes, and was promptly appealed. On Wednesday, the appeals court announced its decision: By a 2-1 vote, the judges agreed that the individual mandate is no longer constitutional, but ordered the lower court to consider again whether it can or cannot be separated from the rest of the law. The two are a George W. Bush appointee and a Donald Trump appointee; the one is a Jimmy Carter appointee.
When it comes to the ACA, this ruling settles...well, not much. The case is going to bounce around the federal court system for at least another year, and will presumably end up on the Supreme Court's docket, eventually. What happens there is anyone's guess, since there is (of course) a 5-4 conservative majority, but Chief Justice John Roberts has previously sided with the ACA. The primary effect of Wednesday's ruling, at least in the short term, is to guarantee that Obamacare and GOP efforts to kill people's health insurance remain front and center for another election cycle. It is true that transgender rights (see above) could work to the detriment of the Democrats. It is also true that healthcare already worked to the detriment of Republicans in 2018. It will presumably do so again.
The ruling could also roil the Democratic primary campaign, possibly starting with tonight's debate. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to envision Pete Buttigieg attacking Elizabeth Warren tonight about her support for Medicare-for-All and having her reply that since the Republican-nominated judges and justices are hell-bent on repealing the ACA, the only way to make sure all Americans get health care is to get rid of it, get rid of all private insurance, and go for Medicare-for-All. (Z)
Paul Manafort, current prisoner and former Donald Trump campaign manager, is in the news at the moment for two different reasons. The good news for him is that, on the grounds of double jeopardy, a New York State judge yesterday threw out state charges that he committed mortgage fraud. Judge Maxwell Wiley ruled that the mortgage fraud charges that Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance brought against Manafort are too similar to the federal charges he was convicted of in August and for which he received a 7-1/2 year prison sentence. New York state law protects people from being tried by the New York state and federal governments for the same crime, and the judge felt that the state charges were just warmed-over federal charges. Vance said he would appeal the ruling.
The bad news is that Manafort has suffered what his doctors have reported as a cardiac event. The precise nature of the event has not been disclosed. Although there are many good cultural events, sporting events, and Christmas events, there are not a lot of good cardiac events. The term generally includes heart attacks and cardiac arrests. Whatever the nature of the event, it was enough to get Manafort temporarily out of prison and into a hospital. If he recovers, he will go back to prison. If he doesn't, he will go to a cemetery.
The best case scenario for Manafort is that he recovers and Donald Trump is not removed from office but also not reelected. Then he can expect a pardon on the morning of Jan. 20, 2021. If Trump is reelected, no pardon is likely to be forthcoming until Jan. 20, 2025, by which time Manafort will be eligible for parole anyway. (V)
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has announced that she will run for a fifth term next year. Up until now, she had been a bit coy about her plans. The reason she hesitated is that this will be her toughest run, by far. Democrats are furious at her for showing her "concern" about the youthful behavior of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh (who was credibly accused of sexual assault) then voting to confirm him anyway. Not only are they furious, but they put their credit cards where their mouths are and have raised amost $4 million to fund her opponent.
That opponent is likely to be Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon (D). Gideon first has to win a primary, but the DSCC and most Maine Democrats support her, so she is likely to win easily. Once she is nominated, she gets the $4 million that is waiting for her. The 2020 Maine Senate race will be the most expensive in the state's history. While Collins is well known and popular in Maine, she has never before faced the fury that she is going to face next year and Maine is a somewhat bluish state. It will be a fierce and nasty battle from day 1. (V)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec18 What Senators Are Most Likely to Buck Their Parties?
Dec18 House Passes $1.4 Trillion Spending Bills
Dec18 Georgia Follows Wisconsin's Lead
Dec18 Anti-Trump Republicans form Anti-Trump Super PAC
Dec18 Democratic Debate Is On
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Dec17 Van Drew Loses Staff, Gains Two Admirers
Dec17 About that 4%...
Dec17 Thursday Debate in Serious Jeopardy
Dec17 Beware of Stereotype-Driven "Analysis"
Dec17 Some States Spend on Census, Some Don't
Dec17 Not So Fast on NAFTA 2.0
Dec16 How Trump Wins in 2020
Dec16 Booker Asks DNC to Soften the Rules for Qualifying for the Debates
Dec16 Bloomberg: Boris Johnson is the Canary in the Coal Mine
Dec16 Democrats Have Found Their 2020 Campaign Issue
Dec16 Biden Is Counting on Texas
Dec16 Fox News Poll: Half the Country Wants Trump Removed from Office
Dec16 Judge Orders 234,000 Wisconsin Voters to Be Purged from the Rolls
Dec16 New Voters Are Not Like Old Voters
Dec16 Pompeo Opens a Personal Twitter Account
Dec16 Jefferson Takes a Stand
Dec15 Sunday Mailbag
Dec14 Supreme Court to Take Up Trump Taxes
Dec14 House Judiciary Committee Makes it Official
Dec14 Saturday Q&A
Dec13 No Articles of Impeachment, Yet
Dec13 Democratic Primary Debate Dates Announced
Dec13 Beshear Restores Voting Rights to 140,000 Felons
Dec13 Senate Recognizes Armenian Genocide
Dec13 About that Trump Family Hypocrisy...
Dec13 Boris Johnson Wins Big
Dec13 Is the Third Time the Charm in Israel?
Dec12 House Judiciary Committee Debates Impeaching Trump
Dec12 Biden Might Serve Only One Term
Dec12 Biden Leads in California and Texas
Dec12 Bloomberg Donates $10 Million to Vulnerable House Democrats
Dec12 Senate Again Won't Pass Bill Fighting Foreign Meddling in U.S. Elections
Dec12 Horowitz Goes after Barr
Dec12 Republicans May Not Call Witnesses at the Impeachment Trial
Dec12 Powell Ignores Trump and Says Interest Rates Won't Drop in 2020
Dec12 Democrats Exploit Trump's Achilles Heel
Dec12 I Am Not a Crook: A Look at History's Most Scandalous Scandals, Part VII
Dec11 Democrats Unveil Two Articles of Impeachment
Dec11 Federal Judge Bars Major Source of Wall Funding
Dec11 Trump to Declare Judaism a Nationality
Dec11 Buttigieg Releases Client List
Dec11 Yang Makes Cut for the Seventh Debate