Watching Impeachment Unfold In Real Time
Quote of the Day
Kamala Harris Picks Up Big Endorsement
Budget Official to Testify Today
Sondland’s Testimony Continues to Crumble
Giuliani Associate Was on ‘Secret Mission’ for Trump
• Diplomacy, Trump Style
• Today in Emoluments News: Trump International DC
• Amazon Sues the Pentagon
• The State of the Democratic Race, Part I: National Polls
• The State of the Democratic Race, Part II: Early State Polls
• Longshot Candidates Become a Little Bit Longer Shots
• It's Déjà Vu All Over Again
There were no public hearings in the Ukrainian Five matter on Thursday, but that doesn't mean that there was not a lot of movement on various fronts, as the various players make their moves and their countermoves.
The biggest piece of news on Thursday was the report, from the Associated Press, that there was a second person who overheard the extortion-related phone call that Donald Trump made to Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland on July 26 (just one day after the infamous phone call to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25). The new witness is Suriya Jayanti, a foreign service officer based in Kyiv. Undoubtedly, she'll be getting an invitation to visit with leader-of-the-impeachment-inquiry Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) very soon.
That means that there are now three firsthand witnesses that can speak not only to the existence of an extortion plot, but also to the President's firsthand knowledge of, and involvement with, that plot: David Holmes, Jayanti, and Sondland. Sondland is scheduled to appear for a public hearing next week. Initially, the ambassador had woven a tale that is very favorable to him, and pretty favorable to Trump. But he has already amended his testimony once, to be much less friendly to the president.
Sondland is in an interesting position. Vox has a nice background piece on him. He is a wealthy hotelier who lives in Oregon and a consistent Republican donor. His family is Jewish and his parents are Holocaust survivors. Initially he supported Trump, but after Trump attacked the gold-star family of Khizr Khan, to his credit, Sondland decided that bigotry against Muslims was just as bad as bigotry against Jews and stopped supporting Trump. However, he did want a nice paid holiday in historic Brussels, so after Trump won the election, Sondland donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration fund. And he did it using four of his LLCs as straw men in the hope that nobody would notice. Be aware that donating to a campaign carries the risk that you will get zero return on your investment because your candidate might lose. Donating to the inaugural fund carries no risk and you can make a straight business deal: $1 million for you, an ambassadorship for me. Deal? All this suggests that Sondland isn't a dyed-in-the-wool Trumpist. A fellow like that does not want to spend several years at Club Fed due to perjuring himself before Congress. So, he could well get cold feet before Wednesday, and could join the list of folks who say they won't show up until a judge tells them to do so. If he does appear, however, there's a pretty good chance that he confirms the July 26 phone call, which would be very bad for Trump.
And by the way, the list of folks who heard that cellular call may be longer than three. Much longer, in fact. Guess who likely has a recording of the call, according to CNN and other outlets? That's right, the Russians. And probably the Chinese. Talk about kompromat. Who knows what they will or will not do with it, assuming they really have it. However, if they were able to intercept the transmission, it's very possible others (the Iranians?) have it, as well. Don't be entirely stunned if, somehow, it ends up on YouTube or some other site in the not-too-distant future.
The cellular-phone-call-related stuff was the worst news of the day for the President, but it's not the only bad news he got. First of all, the impeachment hearings are getting pretty good ratings, and Trump cares a lot about TV ratings. 13.1 million people tuned in to watch at least part, and that figure does not include those who watched online. By way of comparison, "The Apprentice" averaged 4.7 million viewers per episode in its final season. Inasmuch as the Republicans have the weaker hand here, they would really prefer Apprentice-level ratings. In fact, the state-run media...er, Fox News is aggressively promoting the message that the hearings are "boring" and that it's not worth tuning in. On top of that, when it comes to folks who get their news from the Internet, bits and pieces of Bill Taylor's testimony have quickly become popular memes, thanks to the Walter-Cronkite-like timbre of his voice, and his stately bearing.
Moving on, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) held a press conference on Thursday, and made a point of describing what happened as "bribery." She has undoubtedly read her copy of the Constitution, and noticed that 'quid pro quo' is not specifically listed as a high crime and misdemeanor, but 'bribery' specifically is. The Democrats' strategy in this matter is becoming very clear; they want everyone to conclude that what happened here was not just a technical violation of the rules, but a bona fide crime for which the Constitution has a specific penalty: Impeachment. Consistent with that, Schiff spent some time during Wednesday's hearings exploring the potential damage that Trump did here, up to including how many lives he might have put at risk. Expect that theme to return during future hearings. Indeed, some Democrats are already trying out the slogan "At least nobody died in the Watergate scandal."
Trump, for his part, desperately wants to take some sort of action. He simply cannot be patient, even when patience would be best. And so, today he will reportedly release the transcript of his first, congratulatory phone call to Zelensky. When the President announced his plans to do so earlier this week, we assumed that it would be a fairly benign transcript meant to serve as a red herring. But now we learn that Trump's staff really does not want him to publish the document. Further, he really thought the original transcript would be exculpatory, when clearly it was not. So, maybe he's about to shoot himself in the foot again. We'll find out today...maybe.
What will definitely happen today is that the public hearings will resume. Up to bat is Marie ("Masha") Yovanovitch, the ambassador to Ukraine who was fired when she refused to play ball with presidential lawyer/fixer Rudy Giuliani. Undoubtedly, she will comment at length about Giuliani's role in this scheme. Equally undoubtedly, she will be attacked mercilessly by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), and other Republicans. Beyond that, you'll have to watch to find out what happens. Her appearance commences at roughly 9:00 a.m. ET; CSPAN is streaming it here. (Z & V)
Who is the worst foreign policy president in U.S. history? It's an interesting question, though not an easy one to answer. Foreign policy was not an enormous part of presidential portfolios before the U.S. emerged as a world power in the late 1890s, so the answer is probably not one of the pre-1900 presidents. But beyond that, it depends a lot on what kind of failure is the worst kind. Is failure defined as a lack of action, even when action is needed? Then the answer is probably Jimmy Carter, whose very commendable commitment to human rights translated into a too-often hands-off approach that allowed situations in Iran, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan, among others, to spin out of control. On the other hand, maybe the biggest failure is the president who made the single biggest and costliest blunder? If so, then the answer is Lyndon B. Johnson, who screwed up six ways to Sunday with Vietnam, and ruined what otherwise would have been one of the great presidencies. However, one might also say that the worst foreign policy president is the one who made blunder after blunder, in country after country, refusing to learn from his mistakes or to correct his narrow-minded, self-centered worldview. If that's your standard, then the answer is Woodrow Wilson, who screwed around in half a dozen Latin American countries, invariably leaving those nations worse off than when he found them, and then topped that off by personally representing the U.S. at the negotiations for the Treaty of Versailles, and botching that, too.
All three of these men were Democrats. Maybe that is a coincidence, and maybe it is not. In any case, they have now been overtaken by a Republican, namely one Donald J. Trump. He could plausibly be put in all of the three categories above, as he's failed to take action where action is needed (Saudi Arabia, Syria, North Korea, etc.), he's got a mega-screwup on his record that will be remembered for generations (Russia/Ukraine), and he's made repeated screw-ups pursuing a self-centered "America First" policy that will ultimately make the U.S. less strong and less safe (weakening NATO, pulling out of the Iran deal, pulling out of the Paris Accord, etc.). When college students take U.S. diplomatic history 20 years from now, their professors are going to have to spend a whole month on the Age of Trump.
We point all of this out, because Thursday saw two more reminders of Trump's utterly feckless approach to foreign policy. First up is South Korea, which may be the United States' most important and most loyal ally in East Asia (it's either them or Japan). Trump, of course, has made a habit of stepping on the toes of America's closest allies. Actually, "stomping on the toes" is probably a better way to put it. And the South Koreans have just gotten the Trump treatment. As Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is visiting the Korean peninsula, trying to calm newly heightened tensions there, the President announced that he expects the South Koreans to start paying more toward their defense. In fact, he wants almost four hundred percent more; bumping the price tag from $1 billion a year to $4.7 billion a year. The South Koreans, the Pentagon, and Republican members of Congress are all very upset by this. In part, because increasing the price tag is tolerable, but to increase it that much all at once is unreasonable. And in part, because everyone suspects this is pretext to withdrawing U.S. troops from the peninsula. Needless to say, any government official not named "Trump" realizes that the departure of U.S. troops will embolden North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, while at the same time making the South Koreans less willing to work with the U.S. in the future.
So, that's the allies. Trump sometimes does better, such as it is, with leaders who are not especially good allies, and who are also not nice people. However, he did poorly on that front this week, as well. Turkish president Recep Erdoğan was in Washington this week, and decided to do some peacocking while he was in town. He compelled Trump and a group of Republican senators to watch an anti-Kurd video that participants described as "pure propaganda." The Turkish leader also returned the President's "don't be a tough guy" letter; the crystal clear message was "kıçına sok" Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who was witness to all of this, and who has something of a temper, blasted Erdoğan. Graham and his colleagues know, however, that Trump never stands up to bullies, and so they are thinking about taking action themselves, and hitting the Turks with new sanctions. Erdoğan, for his part, is being lionized back home for his "triumph" over Trump.
So, two more lines for Trump's foreign policy "résumé." His place as worst foreign policy president, at least at the moment, is secure. Is there anything he might do to change that? Hard to see what that might be. He certainly does not need to keep a spot on his mantel open for that Nobel Peace Prize anymore. (Z)
In theory, the members of the Trump family are educated people. After all, Donald and his four oldest children all have college degrees (with Eric Trump, Georgetown alumnus, being the only non-Ivy diplomate). However, it seems like they skipped class a lot, or else they went to class but it didn't sink in, because the whole family is remarkably clumsy when it comes to the written word, and the implications of what they write/say.
To give a quick example, Donald Trump Jr. took a fair bit of flak last week over the passage from his new book in which he talks about visiting Arlington National Cemetery, and how his mind turned to the sacrifices that one makes for one's country:
In that moment, I also thought of all the attacks we'd already suffered as a family, and about all the sacrifices we'd have to make to help my father succeed—voluntarily giving up a huge chunk of our business and all international deals to avoid the appearance that we were "profiting off the office."
It is truly astounding that young Trump did not appreciate how tacky that passage is, given the implied comparison between men and women who paid the ultimate price for their country, and his own family's settling for something less than every red cent they could squeeze out of their businesses.
That brings us to this week's example, namely the brochure the Trump Organization is using in an effort to sell the Trump International Hotel in Washington. It is clear they know the value will never be higher than it is right now. They are asking for $500 million, which would dwarf the sale price for any other hotel ever sold in D.C., despite the fact that the new owner would not even own the building. One of the pages of the brochure says that one of the main selling points is that "Tremendous upside potential exists for a new owner to fully capitalize on government related business upon rebranding of the asset." That same page also lays out how much government-related business the hotel has turned down since Trump became president. Consistent with young Trump's book, this part of the brochure uses the word "sacrifices," suggesting that Junior himself wrote the copy.
In any case, it is once again remarkable that the Trump family does not seem to realize what they are implying here, given that they are currently facing multiple emoluments-related lawsuits centered on this very hotel. First of all, they are making clear they know full well that the hotel's profits are being goosed by having Trump in the White House, and that they know that's not ok. Second, they are making clear that while they turned down some business, they didn't turn it all down (they capitalized, they just didn't fully capitalize), which means they have tacitly admitted to breaking the law. And finally, they are making clear that while they are semi-unwilling to maximize rental revenue by utilizing the presidency, they are more than willing to maximize the sales price using the presidency. If the lawyers who are representing the plaintiffs in the various emoluments lawsuits do not make this brochure Exhibit A, they should be disbarred for malpractice. (Z)
Speaking of lawsuits and the ongoing blurring of the line between private businesses and the federal government, the Pentagon was on the verge of awarding a $10 billion cloud computing contract to Amazon. However, Donald Trump loathes the Washington Post, which is owned by Jeff Bezos. Bezos is also the founder, biggest shareholder, and CEO of Amazon, so Trump hates Amazon, too. The President made very clear that he did not want Amazon to get the contract and, in a stunning coincidence, the Pentagon changed its mind at the last minute and gave it to Microsoft instead. Now, Amazon has sued, claiming that the decision-making process involved "unmistakable bias" and "political influence."
Undoubtedly, Amazon's claims here are true. However, we have absolutely no idea whether they can win a lawsuit like this. We do know two things, however. First is that the broad outlines of this story line up pretty closely with the broad outlines of the Ukraine extortion story. To wit, Trump is more than willing to withhold public money from those who do not do his private bidding. And so, the suit will make it a little harder, in the court of public opinion, to argue that the President would never, ever do something like what he's accused of vis-a-vis Ukraine. Second is that the angrier and more besieged Trump feels, the more unhinged he gets. If the Ukraine situation, the Amazon situation, the tax return situation, the emoluments situation, and any of half a dozen other presidential messes all come to fruition at the same time, he could really blow a gasket. (Z)
As we noted yesterday, there are national polls of the Democratic field multiple times per week right now. That will continue for most or all of the next year (with a slight slowdown around the holidays). It would be a bit dry for us to write an individual item for every single one of them, but the occasional roundup works pretty well. There are four new national polls that were released in the last week or so; from The Economist/YouGov, Morning Consult, Monmouth, and The Hill/HarrisX. Here's everyone to get a number above 1% in at least one of the four, from highest average to lowest:
Not too many surprises here. The top five are clearly delineated, and the only question is exactly how big the gap is between Biden and the two progressives. Note that he leads them by huge margins in some houses' results (The Hill/Harris X, Politico/Morning Consult), but that others have it neck and neck. The truth is probably somewhere between those two extremes, meaning that Biden has about a three-point national lead over Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who in turn has a three-point lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Meanwhile, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend) is still plausibly within striking distance, particularly if he does well in the early states, while Kamala Harris really isn't. As to all the others, clearly the voters aren't buying what they are selling, and time is running out to change that.
Incidentally, if you want to know how the betting markets have it, PaddyPower has the six favorites as Warren (2/1; 33.3%), Biden (3/1; 25%), Sanders (5/1; 16.7%), Buttigieg (5/1; 16.7%), Yang (11/1; 8.3%), and Michael Bloomberg (12/1; 7.7%). Note that those figures include the vigorish, so they are a little on the high side (i.e., Warren is more like 31.5%). PredictIt does things a little differently, but their top six is Elizabeth Warren (21.1%), Joe Biden (16.7%), Pete Buttigieg (13.9%), Bernie Sanders (9.4%), Andrew Yang (6.6%), and Hillary Clinton (5.1%).
And don't forget, these polls were all taken before Deval Patrick got in and before Michael Bloomberg does whatever he is going to do. Both of these gentlemen are going to hurt Biden much more than they will hurt Warren and Sanders. (Z)
And now, let's look at this question from the vantage point of the four early-voting states. Recalling that a candidate must collect at least 15% of the votes to win any delegates, here is everyone averaging at least 10% in one of those four states (across the last five polls done of that state):
More recent polls have suggested rough going for Biden in the early states, but that could be the margin of error speaking, or a minor blip. Certainly, the overall picture suggests he's in ok shape. And keep in mind that what's really at stake here is narrative. If the numbers above prove correct, then Biden would enter Super Tuesday with approximately 43 delegates (8 + 6 + 20 + 9), Warren would have 28 (7 + 6 + 8 + 7), Sanders would have 24 (6 + 4 + 7 + 7), and Buttigieg would have 6 (6 + 0 + 0 + 0). Of course, it's possible the numbers above are way off. But regardless, given that it takes 1,885 delegates for the nomination, the race is going to remain very close heading into Super Tuesday, no matter how much jockeying for position takes place in the four early states. (Z)
As we note above, some Democratic candidates are doing pretty well. Others have a tough row to hoe. And on Thursday, we got reason to be just a little more pessimistic about two of the row hoers.
First is Julián Castro; he seems to be the last person in the country who does not know that this is just not his year. He's running short on cash, is doing terrible in polls (see above), and has had to lay off much of his staff. On Thursday, what seemed inevitable has officially come to pass: He won't get an invite to the fifth Democratic debate next week. That means that he will be the only candidate from the fourth debate who is still in the race and who will not be on stage (Beto O'Rourke missed the cut, too, but he's already ended his campaign). See that wall over there, Mr. Castro? You might want to take a look at the writing upon it. (Hint: It does not say "Mexico paid for this wall.")
Then there is Michael Bloomberg, who is not a candidate yet, but who keeps making noise about becoming one. On Thursday, he officially missed the deadline to get on the ballot in New Hampshire. Further, his "people" confirmed that if he does get in, he will ignore all four of the early-voting states. This is a recipe for disaster, as the 2008 version of Rudy Giuliani (who tried the same thing) can attest. Undoubtedly, Bloomberg thinks that if he gets in, he can use some of his billions to inundate folks in Super Tuesday states with advertising. However, we would suggest that is the thinking of a 77-year-old man who grew up with the political strategy of the 1960s and 1970s. People don't watch ads these days, especially not political ads, and especially not close to an election, when such ads are so constant they effectively become white noise.
Our guess is that Bloomberg eventually concludes there's no lane for him, especially given Mayor Pete Buttigieg's moderate rise in the polls, and Deval Patrick's having joined the fray. If he does enter, however, then it will be a competition between Tom Steyer and him to see who can waste more of their fortune. (Z)
Stop us if you've heard this before: A gubernatorial race in a deep red state pits a moderate Democrat with a record of accomplishment against a Republican who is not terribly popular. As the election draws near, and it appears the Republican is going to lose, the GOP pulls out all the stops, including staging a presidential rally.
That's right, the script from Kentucky two weeks ago is playing out right now in Louisiana. This time, the Democrat is actually the incumbent governor, John Bel Edwards, who is your standard blue dog Southerner. He's expanded Medicaid in the state, and he secured a raise for teachers, but he also signed a pretty aggressive abortion bill into law, and he's talked a lot about his good working relationship with Donald Trump. His opponent is Eddie Rispone, a businessman with no political experience, and somewhat limited name recognition. Rispone is not overly-endowed with charisma, and has been accused of plundering Louisiana's schools to line his own pockets by overcharging on construction projects. Like Gov. Matt Bevin (R-KY), Rispone has run his campaign around national issues, and accused Edwards of being a socialist, a pawn of Adam Schiff, and of allowing "illegals" to overrun the state. (Incidentally, Bevin officially conceded defeat on Thursday.)
Taking a look at all of this, the Republican pooh-bahs are scared witless that Rispone is on the verge of losing a winnable election. So, the RNC has just dumped $2 million into the state, and has also deployed 60 staffers to help Rispone's campaign. This is exactly what they did in Kentucky. Trump also visited the state for one of his rallies on Thursday night, just as he did in Kentucky two weeks ago. He spent most of the time smearing Edwards, and also personalizing the race: "The headlines [in Kentucky]: Trump took a loss. So you've gotta give me a big win, please. OK?"
As a sidebar, we can imagine how Trump's endorsement or lack thereof, and maybe even his tweets, might be able to move the needle in a local election. But we are at a loss as to how his rallies could possibly have any effect. They attract true believers, the type of folks who are all-but-guaranteed to get to the polls and to vote Republican. What they do not attract is fence-sitters and/or low-enthusiasm voters, i.e. the folks whom the GOP needs to get to the polls.
Anyhow, if the Republicans do lose two Southern gubernatorial elections, back to back, where the Republican ran on Trumpism, and the President put his own political capital on the line to try to secure a win, then it certainly will give 2020 Republican candidates something to think about. There will come a time when hugging Trump close will no longer be a winning strategy, and it could be that time arrives sooner than anyone imagined. For what it is worth, the two most recent polls have Edwards up by two points, which is within the margin of error. Larry Sabato has the race rated as "leans Democratic," and Edwards' approval ratings are pretty good, with 52% approving and 31% disapproving. So, the Governor is a favorite, albeit a slight one. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov14 The Case for and against Impeaching Donald Trump
Nov14 Impeachment Could Cost the GOP
Nov14 The Voters Have Already Made Up Their Minds
Nov14 Giuliani Writes an Op-ed Condemning the Impeachment Inquiry
Nov14 Trump Suffers Another Taxing Defeat
Nov14 Another Look at Those New York Times Polls
Nov14 Warren Is Ramping Up in California
Nov14 Patrick Makes it Official
Nov13 Trump Can't Decide What He Wants to Do...
Nov13 ...Nor Can Mulvaney
Nov13 Congressional Caucuses Produce Dueling Memos
Nov13 100 House Republicans Down, and Counting
Nov13 Look Closely at the Pennsylvania Suburbs
Nov13 Today's Completely Unsurprising News, Part I: Of Course Trump Knew Giuliani's Indicted Associates
Nov13 Today's Completely Unsurprising News, Part II: Of Course Stephen Miller Is a White Nationalist
Nov13 Guess Who's Leading in Iowa?
Nov13 Apparently, the Presidential Field Is Still in Flux
Nov13 Trump Campaign Plans to Set up a Wall Cam
Nov12 Republicans Remain Firm on Impeachment
Nov12 Trump's Tax Returns Get a Little Closer to Seeing the Light of Day
Nov12 Today in Irony: Donald Trump Jr.'s Visit to UCLA
Nov12 Nikki Haley Has a Book, Too
Nov12 Patrick Suggests He Might Run
Nov12 Cummings' Widow Will Run for His Seat
Nov12 Peter King Becomes the 20th Republican Member of the House to Retire
Nov11 Schiff: Whistleblower Testimony Is Not Needed
Nov11 Mulvaney Sues Trump
Nov11 Bolton Has a Book Deal
Nov11 Democrats Are Preparing for the Impeachment Testimony
Nov11 Impeachment Puts Barr on the Spot
Nov11 Demographic Changes Are Making Trump's Reelection More Difficult
Nov11 Sanders Blasts Bloomberg
Nov11 Steyer's Iowa Political Director Quits
Nov11 Democrats Move the December Debate 10 Miles South
Nov10 Sunday Mailbag
Nov09 Saturday Q&A
Nov08 Bloomberg Makes His Move?
Nov08 Today's Impeachment News
Nov08 Trump Hit with $2 Million Judgment
Nov08 First Revelations from "Anonymous" Book
Nov08 Warren Has a...Calculator for That?
Nov08 Steyer Tried to Buy Endorsements
Nov08 Could Bevin Steal a Victory from the Jaws of Defeat?
Nov08 Time to Start Ignoring Moody's
Nov07 Public Hearings in Impeachment Inquiry Will Begin Next Week
Nov07 Most Voters Think Trump Will Be Reelected
Nov07 Russian Media Have Possibly Outed the Whistleblower
Nov07 Even Barr Has His Limits, Apparently
Nov07 Will The Next Impeachment Be Like the Previous Ones?