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Political Wire logo Nationals Pitcher Will Skip White House Celebration
Smugglers Cut Through Sections of Trump’s Border Wall
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Republicans Consider Admitting Quid Pro Quo
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  House Formalizes Impeachment Inquiry
      •  About That Offer to the Republican Senators...
      •  Trump Unveils 2020 Strategy
      •  The Nine Lives of Obamacare
      •  Funding Medicare for All May Just Be Viable
      •  Democratic Deluge in Virginia
      •  Trump Is Now a Floridian

House Formalizes Impeachment Inquiry

Some days, there is one bit of really big news on the impeachment front. Other days, it is a number of pieces of smaller news. Thursday was definitely in the latter category, as quite a bit of movement took place, though it would be hard to describe any of it as earth-shattering.

To start, and as expected, the House voted to formalize the procedures for impeachment. It was almost an entirely party-line vote, with just two Democrats joining the Republicans in voting "nay," and Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) joining the rest of the Democrats in voting "yea." This actually would be pretty big news, if we didn't already know the contents of the resolution, and that adoption was a mere formality. Democratic pooh-bahs also said they are close to being done with closed-door sessions, and that the next phase of the inquiry will largely take place in full public view.

Thursday was also the day that Tim Morrison, the Russia expert on the NSC, gave his testimony on the UkraineYZ Affair. He confirmed the basic details provided by Bill Taylor and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, but also refused to criticize Donald Trump, while also opining that he did not think the President was guilty of anything illegal. So, no bombshells; Morrison resigned from his job because he's tired of it, apparently. His remarks were equivocal enough that representatives on both sides of the aisle claimed that Morrison vindicated their position on impeachment.

And as long as we're talking about star witnesses, we also got some clarity on John Bolton's plans. Or maybe not. His lawyer announced that he simply won't testify...voluntarily, and won't show up until he's subpoenaed. That would seem to imply that once all the t's are crossed and i's are dotted, Bolton will make his appearance. On the other hand, if he's willing and able to talk, why the formality? He's already out of a job, and doesn't need the excuse that "I had no choice." He's a hard man to figure.

If Bolton does dig his feet in, the Democrats may just have to do without. Federal judge Richard Leon is considering the suit brought by former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman, wherein Kupperman asked for guidance on whether he has to talk to Congress or not. It's widely understood that Leon's answer will also be the answer for others who are resisting testifying. Consequently, the Judge agreed to fast-track his decision. On Thursday, however, he announced that "fast-track" means he'll deal with the matter in mid-December. If Democrats stick to the impeachment timeline they currently envision, that may be too late for them to talk to those witnesses, even if those witnesses are ordered to present themselves on the Hill.

And finally, speaking of witnesses who are resisting Congress' subpoenas and requests, Politico has a piece discussing a possible motivation that is entirely practical, and has nothing to do with loyalty to the President. In short, anyone who gets grilled by a Congressional committee needs at least one lawyer with them, and the lawyers who perform this task don't come cheap ($1,000-$1,500 an hour). During the Mueller investigation, these folks got help from a fund set up by Trump's supporters. This time, they are on their own. So, their reticence might be because they're trying to figure out a source of funding, or are hoping that Team Trump will eventually pony up, or think they might avoid the whole mess (and the associated costs) altogether. (Z)

About That Offer to the Republican Senators...

Speaking of help from Donald Trump, yesterday we noted that he has developed a defense strategy of sorts when it comes to the impeachment trial he is now certain to face. The reason that we say "of sorts" is that his focus is apparently not on crafting a counter-argument to the charges being made by Democrats. Instead, it's on "winning over" the jurors who will ultimately decide his fate, namely the GOP senators. He's made clear that senators who remain loyal to him will get help with their reelection campaigns. Those who do not will get no help (and, along with that, will presumably be undermined by him on Twitter).

Of course, the devil is always in the details. And Trump's problem, throughout his relatively brief political career, is that he does not grasp (or chooses to ignore) the sometimes subtle line between acceptable behavior and breaking the law. For example, if the President had hired a private (American) investigator to go to the Ukraine to try to collect dirt on the Biden family and paid for it personally, that would have not been an impeachable offense. It would have been garden-variety oppo research. However, asking Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky to do the work was illegal (with or without a quid pro quo) because foreign nationals cannot contribute anything of value to an American political campaign.

Similarly, if Trump's offer to the senators was that he would campaign hard for them and would send out positive tweets and would say nice things about them on TV, that likely would have been ok. It probably would also have been ok for him to appear at fish fry- and pancake breakfast-type events and other fundraisers being hosted by the senators. However, what he's actually doing is jointly raising money for them and for him. His campaign has already sent out an e-mail asking for contributions, with the promise that any money donated will be split between Trump and Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Thom Tillis (R-NC).

Perhaps you see where this is headed. Money is theoretically going to pass through the hands of Trump and his campaign into the hands of folks who will sit in judgment of him. This not only crosses the line, it's deep into "bribe" territory. Richard Painter, who served as ethics lawyer in the second Bush White House, made this very observation on Twitter this morning:

If and when someone points this out to the President (assuming someone hasn't already), he presumably won't care. After all, this is the way he's been conducting business for decades, and besides, he's getting somewhat desperate. However, the senators in question have legal advisers too, and they are probably not going to be ok with the optics here, not to mention the risk that they could be expelled from the Senate and/or sent to prison. So, odds are that this new Trump tactic doesn't work out. (Z)

Trump Unveils 2020 Strategy

The way things are going, Donald Trump may not make it to November 2020. But if he does, he's going to have to mount a reelection campaign. And, courtesy of the ad his campaign aired during the final game of the World Series, we now have a pretty good idea of what his messaging is going to look like. Here's the ad, which was concurrently posted to the President's twitter account:

For those who do not wish to watch, or cannot, the commercial begins by touting some of the President's accomplishments (cutting immigration, reduced unemployment, "obliterating" ISIS), then moves on to how horrible and impeachment-obsessed the Democrats are, and concludes with the catchphrase: "He's no Mr. Nice Guy. But sometimes it takes a Donald Trump to change Washington."

It's the last bit that's getting all the attention from pundits. Even some Democrats, like Paul Begala, were impressed. Some Republicans, like Henry Olsen, are much more than just impressed. Olsen thinks the branding is brilliant, and turns Trump's biggest liability (he's a jerk) into an asset (sometimes it takes a jerk to get things done). Olson says that the Democrats should be "very nervous."

For our part, we are skeptical. Even if it's a good script, it's hard to think that Trump can stick to any script consistently for a full year, particularly one that involves him constantly admitting to his shortcomings. On top of that, it's not a particularly inspiring way of looking at things. Undoubtedly, "he may be a jerk, but he's our jerk" will produce approving nods from the base. But will it drive them to get to the polls at all costs? Will it impress independents? Will it dishearten Democrats and cause them to stay home on Election Day? We don't see it, and Trump needs at least one of those three things (if not more) to happen to have a chance at winning. (Z)

The Nine Lives of Obamacare

Over and over, the Republicans have stabbed Obamacare with their steely knives, but they just can't kill the beast. It's not only still surviving, it's thriving, as the 2020 enrollment period is now open (not that the federal government is doing anything to publicize that fact). The 10th anniversary of the program is upon us, millions of people are getting their insurance through it, and the dramatic price swings of the early years appear to be a thing of the past (in fact, prices are expected to drop 4%, on average, next year).

That said, Republicans still have their sights set on the ACA, and they are having at least some success in chipping away at it. 400,000 fewer children are now insured than on the day Donald Trump took office. Strange that some folks see that as a victory, but they do. On top of that, Republicans from Trump on down continue to flog worthless junk insurance, and poison-pill waivers that allow people to choose a non-Obamacare policy, but then make it nearly impossible to switch back. And there is also the ongoing federal lawsuit that, if successful, would effectively destroy Obamacare. It's based on the argument that the Supreme Court sustained the program because it's a form of tax, and now that Congress has set the tax to zero, the legal foundation laid by SCOTUS is gone.

Given how badly the issue seemed to hurt the red team in 2018, it's remarkable that they're still at it. Maybe they know something we don't. Or maybe they just have trouble accepting defeat, and haven't heard the line about not getting burned twice by the same flame. For reference purposes, we will note that the most recent poll of public opinion on the ACA, conducted a couple of weeks ago, has 51% of voters approving of it and 40% disapproving. Our staff mathematician is double-checking our figures, but we believe that means that Obamacare is 11 points above water. (Z)

Funding Medicare for All May Just Be Viable

Speaking of healthcare, last week we had an item about funding Medicare for All, and the challenges that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) could face as she tries to piece together a viable plan to fund the initiative. And now, in the interest of addressing all sides of the issue, let's talk about a couple of op-eds that are much more optimistic about the funding prospects.

First, from Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, who teach in the econ department at Berkeley, is this piece for the Guardian (UK) arguing that Medicare for All will actually increase take-home pay for most Americans, even after changes to the tax code are accounted for. Their main point is that most people's healthcare is paid for by deductions from their paychecks. However, because these deductions are not labeled a "tax," everyone pays the same, whether we are talking Joe the Janitor, or Mike the mid-level manager, or Christina the CEO. Consequently, the cost of health insurance, which averages about $15,000 per worker in the U.S., is effectively an extremely regressive tax. If those employer healthcare contributions were turned into salary, and then everyone was taxed a bit more, there would be enough money to pay for Medicare for All, and Joe the Janitor and Mike the mid-level manager would also take home more in pay, since their tax bill might go up by $5,000, but their take-home pay would go up by $15,000, leaving them $10,000 ahead.

Moving on, the same duo wrote this op-ed for the Washington Post about the wealth tax that Warren hopes to use in order to balance the books. They acknowledge that many European countries were unable to make a wealth tax work, but point out that there were issues endemic to that continent that would not hold true in the United States. First of all, it is possible to go into "tax exile" in Europe by moving to a different country (Monaco is popular with the jet set) but that option is not available to Americans, who have to pay the IRS no matter where they live, unless they renounce their citizenship. On top of that, the Europeans were far too lax in establishing rules for enforcement of the wealth taxes, and far too lenient about allowing loopholes. The IRS is already miles ahead on both fronts.

Saez and Zucman have a clear political leaning and, indeed, have consulted for the progressive presidential candidates on these matters. Still, they are also experts, and they show their work in the two linked op-eds (to the extent that is possible in this format). As Warren sweats over her funding plan, which she is supposed to be releasing anytime, it is well within the realm of possibility that she can come up with something that is actually plausible. (Z)

Democratic Deluge in Virginia

Not since Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign has a blue team launched such a large-scale invasion of Virginia. The Democratic Party is sending many operatives and a vast pile of cash to the Old Dominion State in an effort to recapture the two houses of the state legislature when Virginians head to the polls on Tuesday. The Party regards this as the first test run for their 2020 efforts to recapture as many statehouses as possible, in advance of the redistricting that will be necessitated by the 2020 census.

It's well within the realm of possibility that the Democrats, who already hold the state's governor's mansion, will lock up the trifecta. That will be a nice PR victory for the DNC, if it comes to pass. However, one should not draw too many conclusions about what will happen in 2020 based on this result, for a number of reasons:

  • Off-year elections are always wonky
  • Virginia's campaign-finance laws are very laissez-faire, meaning that Democrats can drop cash by the boatload. That's not true everywhere else.
  • Virginia is pretty blue, and is getting bluer
  • The blue team needs only one seat in each house of the state legislature to flip both. There's no other state where the Democrats are that close to the promised land.

There hasn't been much polling of Virginia, but the few polls that have been done suggest the Democrats will pick up a couple of seats in each chamber of the legislature. (Z)

Trump Is Now a Floridian

Donald Trump was born and raised in New York, and has been a resident of the state for all of his 73 years. Not anymore, though. On Wednesday, it was announced that he and First Lady Melania Trump have filed paperwork to change their official state of residence to Florida. "I am, at the time of making this declaration, a bona fide resident of the State of Florida," Trump says in his declaration of domicile, giving his "new" address as 1100 South Ocean Blvd., a.k.a. Mar-a-Lago.

When asked about the change, the President said it was prompted by his resentments and his hurt feelings: "[D]espite the fact that I pay millions of dollars in city, state and local taxes each year, I have been treated very badly by the political leaders of both the city and state. Few have been treated worse." Many New Yorkers were happy to respond in kind, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY):

In case you missed it, those two men do not care for each other.

While Trump does have quite the martyr complex, it's a little hard to believe that he would make this change, and would go to the trouble of making it official, just because the New Yorkers have been a bunch of meanies. The obvious alternative explanation, which many commentators have suggested, is that he's doing it for tax reasons, since New York State has a personal income tax, and Florida does not. However, we're not buying that, either. As Cuomo points out in his tweet, Trump probably doesn't pay all that much in state taxes, if he pays anything. Further, if this change really was going to save him big-time on his taxes, why would he have waited 73 years to make it?

So if this isn't Trump taking his ball and going (to a new) home, and it's not a tax dodge, what's the explanation? Obviously, we don't know, but we can hazard a few guesses. One possibility is that Trump has somehow convinced himself (or been convinced) that his being a resident of Florida will make it harder for New York officials to pursue legal action against him. This is a dubious proposition, but when one is desperate, one sometimes grasps at straws. A second possibility is that Trump hates the optics of being the rare president who could not win his home state, and this is an attempt to fix that. The president might even think that the people of Florida are more likely to vote for a fellow Floridian, rather than a New Yorker. If so, then he has apparently forgotten that half the population of the state is composed of former New Yorkers.

A third possibility—and this is really a longshot—is that Trump plans to dump Mike Pence and replace him with a running mate from New York. The problems with this theory, even if we grant the jettisoning of Pence, is that it's hard to imagine what New Yorker would make sense on the ticket, as the GOP bench there is paper-thin. Further the rule against electors casting votes for both a president and a vice president from the elector's home state would only matter if Trump and his New Yorker running mate won in New York, which is never going to happen. Still, we're a full-service political analysis site, so we cover all the possibilities we can think of, regardless of how remote. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct31 Democrats Get Serious About Impeachment Inquiry
Oct31 Senators Start to Squirm
Oct31 Trump Begins Planning His Defense
Oct31 More on Alexander Vindman
Oct31 Mr. Bolton, Please Report for Your Deposition
Oct31 What's a Trump Staffer to Do?
Oct31 Twitter to Reject All Political Ads
Oct31 Harris Campaign Begins Death Spiral
Oct30 Vindman Speaks, Trump & Co. Counterattack
Oct30 Two Amigos May Have Some Explaining to Do
Oct30 Early State Polls Suggest Rocky Start for Joe Biden
Oct30 Democratic Candidates Don't Care About California
Oct30 What Do Evangelicals Believe These Days?
Oct30 Bet You Didn't Know that Lindsey Graham Is a Big Supporter of the Green New Deal
Oct30 Good News for House GOP?
Oct29 House Democrats to "Formalize" Impeachment Proceedings
Oct29 This Week's Witness List
Oct29 A Tale of Two Photographs
Oct29 Mike Pompeo May Be Interested in A New Job
Oct29 Sessions May Want His Old Job Back
Oct29 North Carolina Republicans Suffer Another Gerrymander Defeat
Oct29 Florida Republicans Forced to Postpone Annual Event
Oct29 Rep. Greg Walden Will Retire
Oct28 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Is Dead
Oct28 Trump Organization May Sell Washington Hotel
Oct28 This Is Why Trump Doesn't Go Out in Public
Oct28 We Now Have a Trump Tweet Baseline
Oct28 Show Me the Money
Oct28 Rep. Katie Hill to Resign
Oct28 Details for Sixth Democratic Debate Announced
Oct27 Sunday Mailbag
Oct26 Saturday Q&A
Oct25 Trump Administration Did More than Withhold Aid
Oct25 Democrats Strategize on Impeachment...
Oct25 ...And So Do Republicans
Oct25 Barr Is Paying Dividends for Trump
Oct25 Warren Grapples with Funding Medicare for All
Oct25 Biden Will Accept Super PAC Money
Oct25 Sanders Unveils a Weedy Proposal
Oct25 Klobuchar Makes November Cut
Oct25 Ryan Drops Out
Oct24 Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures?
Oct24 Zelensky Knew the Score Well Before Trump Called
Oct24 Trump Capitulates Completely on Syria
Oct24 The Great Wall of...Colorado?
Oct24 Is This What Trump's Lawyers Are Telling Him?
Oct24 Trump Looking Weak in Many Swing States, Against Many Democrats
Oct24 If You Really Like Dick's, You May Get Your Dream Candidate
Oct23 The Impeachment Drums Are Beating Louder
Oct23 Trump Says He's Being Lynched