Pompeo Emerges as Major Trump Enabler
Trump Courts GOP Senators
Sondland’s Testimony Leaves Trump Allies Scrambling
Trump Hosted Zuckerberg at Secret Dinner
My Reaction to the Fifth Democratic Debate
Just Two People Showed Up for Deval Patrick Event
• Trump Reverses Policy on Israel
• Grisham Tells a Whopper
• New Hampshire Poll Has Buttigieg in the Lead
• Democrats Debate Tonight
• Let Them Eat...Avocado Toast
• Jim Jordan May Get a Never Trump Challenger
The Democrats held a very long day of impeachment testimony, featuring four different witnesses. Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) is a cagey fellow, and given that the main purpose here is to publicize evidence of Donald Trump's bad behavior, it's a little strange that he overloaded the docket so significantly. One wonders if he was trying to bury the witness that was so far the most helpful for Trump.
Here are the four folks who spoke on Tuesday, in order, along with the key things that happened during their appearances:
- Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, National Security Council aide: Before the day could properly
begin, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) used his opening statement for some patented Nunes grandstanding and shenanigans. He
railed against the Democrats and the media and defended former Hill reporter John Solomon. Later, Nunes addressed
Vindman as "Mr. Vindman," who corrected him and said that the proper title is "Lt. Col." Predictably, the Representative also
tried to get Vindman to reveal the identity of the whistleblower, though Schiff shut him down forcefully. Within 45
minutes of the commencement of the hearings, the hashtag #DevinNunesIsAnIdiot was
As to Vindman, he gave an opening statement that got rave reviews, and included a touching thank you to his father for fleeing the Soviet Union. During his testimony, he alluded to another person in the intelligence community, a person whose identity is not publicly known, with whom he discussed the now infamous July 25 phone call to Volodymyr Zelensky. Vindman also said he was well aware of a conspiratorial, Ukraine-related "false narrative" well before the phone call, which is why the actual call set off alarm bells. He noted, as well, that Trump never evinced any interest in Ukrainian corruption, and that any post hoc claims that he did are not truthful. To Trump's benefit, the Colonel did say that storing the phone call transcript on the server was not a big deal, and that the redactions in the public version of the transcript don't really matter. Vindman is about to be given special security, because of threats against his person. In case you were wondering, none of the Bill Clinton or Andrew Johnson impeachment witnesses had a reason to fear for their well being, or that of their family.
- Jennifer Williams, aide to Vice President Mike Pence: Williams appeared at the same time
as Vindman, and was in general agreement with him. Or maybe she was in lieutenant colonel agreement. Anyhow, she was one
of the people listening to the Zelensky phone call, which she
on Tuesday as "improper" and "unusual," and centered on a "domestic political matter," and not on foreign policy. She
(and Vindman, for that matter) resisted being characterized as a "Never Trumper."
- Kurt Volker, former US special envoy to Ukraine: From the Democrats' perspective, Volker
was the big witness of the day. He reiterated that Trump hates Ukraine because he is convinced they tried to "take him
down" in 2016. More importantly, he "updated" his account relative to the testimony he gave behind closed doors, in a
manner that will help protect Volker's neck at the expense of Trump's. He
"[S]ince I gave my testimony on October 3, a great deal of additional information and perspectives have come to light. I
have learned many things that I did not know at the time of the events in question." And then, Volker insisted that
while he did not accept any Biden-related conspiracy theories, he was well aware of them. He also said that, contrary to
his earlier testimony, the idea of withholding aid from Ukraine came up at a meeting on July 10, well before the
Zelensky phone call. Volker also questioned the veracity of the account given by Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland,
and concluded that, although he did not believe it previously, he now believes that there was a connection between the
aid and the Biden investigation. Volker pointedly refused to characterize the connection as a bribe or a quid pro quo,
but his newly discovered perspective nonetheless means that a witness that Team Trump was really counting on is now suiting up
for the other team.
- Tim Morrison, former National Security Council aide: Morrison was definitely Trump's best witness so far, although given how damning most of the others have been, that's a low bar to clear. Answering a leading question from Nunes, Morrison said that nobody had ever ordered him to bribe or extort Zelensky. He also said that he was unaware of the President's participating in a scheme to extort Ukraine.
If we really boil it down to the essence, the four witnesses all effectively confirmed the Democrats' version of events, with the first duo implicating Trump in the scheme, and the latter two trying not to do so. This was not a great day for the President, but it was good enough that he claimed victory on Twitter:
A great day for Republicans, a great day for our Country!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 20, 2019
Fox News agreed, though one suspects that the President and his friends in the media would have adopted a celebratory tone no matter what was said.
Up today, of course, is Sondland. The folks who testified on Tuesday all, on some level, corroborated what we already knew about Sondland's role in the whole affair. So, if the Ambassador plans to spin a tale similar to the one he told behind closed doors, he's going to have a hard time doing it without perjuring himself. Maybe he'll do it anyhow, in anticipation of spending some quality time playing gin with Roger Stone. Or, maybe he will choose a different path. We'll learn what he's decided starting at 9:00 a.m. ET today. (Z)
The Trump administration slipped this in pretty late in the day on Monday. Anyhow, Team Trump has decided that its new, official position is that "The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law." That now puts the White House in opposition to the position taken by the Obama administration and by all of the presidents back to Jimmy Carter, as well as to the position of the United Nations and the European Union.
The only real surprise here is that it took as long as it did for the administration to make this move, as it checks all of the President's favorite boxes. It pokes his biggest nemeses—Barack Obama, the U.N., the E.U.—squarely in the eye. If Hillary Clinton and Jeff Bezos could somehow be added to the list, it would be a clean sweep. On top of that, it will please the base. And it will give Trump buddy Benjamin Netanyahu a shot in the arm. It may be too late for the Israeli PM, as Benny Gantz tries to form a new government, but it also may not be.
This decision does make the possibility of a peace settlement, which was already a longshot, more remote. That would appear to be a minor concern for the President, however. After all, this is hardly the first time that Trump has pursued a foreign policy dictated primarily by his own personal needs. Ukraine leaps to mind. (Z)
The current White House Press Secretary, Stephanie Grisham—who, by the way, has yet to hold a press conference in her nearly five months on the job—appeared on the radio show hosted by conservative talker John Fredericks on Tuesday. And she decided she needed to stir the pot a little, so she said this:
When we came into the White House, I'll tell you something, every office was filled with Obama books, and we had notes left behind that said "You will fail," "You aren't going to make it." In the press office, there was a big note taped to a door that said that "You will fail."
Grisham and Fredericks agreed that this was "shocking" and "pathetic."
This does not come remotely close to passing the smell test, for a whole bunch of reasons. Among them:
- We're 34 months into the Trump administration, and nobody else—including the folks who have
written pro-Trump tell-alls, like Sean Spicer—has said a word about this. This despite the fact
that there are a lot of people in the White House, including the fellow in the Oval Office, who would
leap at any opportunity to besmirch the Obama administration.
- Everyone who has worked as Donald Trump's White House Press Secretary has been an inveterate liar,
and Grisham has already shown herself to be a proud maintainer of that tradition.
- Grisham has zero proof. If this had really happened, surely someone would have kept at least one
of the nasty notes.
- Grisham has already changed her story, saying that it wasn't "every office" it was just the ones in her part of the White House. She also decided, after being called out by Obama staffers, that it was "just a prank."
Given the baldfaced and malicious nature of the lie, there is now much pressure on Grisham to resign. Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen. (Z)
St. Anselm has released its latest poll of New Hampshire, and the results are...surprising. They now have Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend) in first place, and it's not even close. According to their results, he's up 10 points on Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and he's up 16 on Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
On one hand, this result is clearly something of an outlier. All of the polls here were conducted in the last few weeks, and it's implausible that Buttigieg jumped 10 points overnight. It's equally implausible that Sanders is down to just 9% in the state next to his home state.
At the same time, it's clear that Buttigieg is on the rise in the Granite State. Each of these polls represented an improvement over the last, and the last time St. Anselm polled New Hampshire (in September), he was at 10. Overall, he remains in fourth place among the Democratic candidates, but he's certainly picked exactly the right time to be on the upswing. Just 76 days left until Iowa voters head to the caucuses. (Z)
We're just less than a year away from Election Day, and yet tonight will see the fifth Democratic debate of 12 (!) overall. This one will be hosted by MSNBC and the Washington Post, and will be moderated by Rachel Maddow, Andrea Mitchell, Ashley Parker, and Kristen Welker. The site is Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, GA—a clear attempt to steer the debate toward issues of interest to black voters. Everyone from debate four will be back for another tilt, with the exception of no-longer-a-candidate Beto O'Rourke and didn't-make-the-cut Julián Castro.
Beyond the usual Democratic debate issues (Medicare for All, climate change, immigration), it will be interesting to see how much time is spent (if any) on the issue of the moment, namely impeachment. The candidates have, in general, shied away from addressing that subject, and Maddow, et al. will be thinking long and hard whether to allow that to continue. Meanwhile, Pete Buttigieg's rise in the polls is going to put a big target on his back, especially since Biden doesn't like to attack his fellow senators, and Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders don't like to attack each other. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) is a wildcard; it's not clear what her game is right now, but it seems to involve the phrase "scorched earth."
Undoubtedly the debate will get a fair bit of coverage on Thursday, but beyond that, it's unlikely to have much of an impact on the race (unless someone makes a major error). First, because the debates in general haven't moved the needle very much. Second, because the primary effect of any debate is to introduce the candidates to the voters. At this point, the ten folks on stage have been pretty well introduced. Third, because we've reached a clear saturation point, and viewers' interest is waning. The first round of debates, back in July, attracted 24.3 million viewers (first night) and 27.1 million (second night). By contrast, the fourth debate, held last month, got just 8.3 million viewers. And finally, there is a very good chance that Gordon Sondland's testimony (see above) will be big news, and will push the debates down the page.
In any event, the fun begins at 9 p.m. ET tonight and, mercifully, will last 2 hours instead of 3. The major cable news outlets will all be covering it, and both MSNBC and the Washington Post will offer free online streams on their respective home pages. (Z)
There are a number of well-known voter prediction models based on food preferences. For example, the one based on Starbucks customers versus McDonalds customers. Or the one based on Cracker Barrel versus Whole Foods locations. Last week, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) offered up a new formulation, declaring that he, Donald Trump, and now-defeated gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone represent the real people, and not the "cosmopolitan, goat's-milk-latte-drinking, avocado-toast-eating insider elites."
Turns out, that was a more prescient analysis than the Senator realized. Avocado toast was hip among urbanites about five years ago, but you would be hard-pressed to find a Michelin-starred restaurant that serves the dish now. On the other hand, as tends to be the case with food trends, avocado toast has radiated out to the suburbs, where it's on the menu all over the place. And indeed, a major part of the reason that Rispone went down to defeat is that the Louisiana suburbs moved decisively toward the Democrats compared to 2016. For example, Jefferson Parish contains much of the New Orleans suburbs. 40% of the votes there went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but more than 60% went for Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-LA) this past weekend.
This, of course, continues a trend we've seen in other states this year, particularly Kentucky and Pennsylvania. If the Democrats continue to do so well among avocado toast eaters, 2020 will be a rough year for the GOP. (Z)
As we noted yesterday, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) has gotten a lot of Republicans excited about her defenses of Donald Trump during the impeachment hearings, but has also lit a fire under her opponents. It would appear the same is true of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH).
Already, there is a lengthy list of Democrats who are vying for the right to face the Representative. And now, Chris Gibbs has announced that he's strongly considering a run as an independent. Gibbs was the chair of the Shelby County Republican Party, and voted for Trump, but then he left the GOP and his chairmanship in response to the President's agricultural policies. If he runs, Gibbs would make that his main issue.
On paper, Jordan should have nothing to worry about. In seven House elections, he's never won by less than 22%, and he usually wins by 30% or more. His district, the comically gerrymandered OH-04, is R+14, and went for Trump by 34 points in 2016. On the other hand, quite a few states and congressional districts that were very Trumpy in 2016 have not been voting that way since. On top of that, if the right-leaning vote splits two ways, that could create an opening for a Democrat. And finally, the great scandal of Jordan's life—that, during his time as an assistant wrestling coach, he looked the other way as his wrestlers were sexually molested—has just flared up again. Jordan has consistently claimed that he knew nothing about the molestation, but just last week a former referee filed a lawsuit in which he claims that he personally warned Jordan and head coach Russ Hellickson. Depending on how that case develops, it could wound the Representative badly, and perhaps even fatally. (Z)
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Nov19 Trump Gets Physical...Or Does He?
Nov19 Two Courts Give Trump Favorable Tax Return Rulings
Nov19 A Faustian Bargain?
Nov19 Another Day, Another Gerrymandered North Carolina Map
Nov19 American Bridge Tries Out Possible Approach to 2020 Advertisements
Nov19 Why The Hill is Fox News Lite
Nov18 The Base Is Too Big
Nov18 Pelosi: Impeachment Hearings Might Not Finish This Year
Nov18 Trump Attacks a Pence Staffer
Nov18 Poll: Buttigieg Leads in Iowa
Nov18 Warren Has a Plan ... for Health Care
Nov18 The Harris Campaign: The Obituary
Nov18 Bloomberg Will Spend $100 Million in Four States
Nov18 What Kind of Government Reforms Might Be Passed Post-Trump?
Nov17 John Bel Edwards Is Reelected
Nov17 Sunday Mailbag
Nov16 Yovanovitch Testifies, Republicans Obfuscate, and Trump Instigates
Nov16 Stone Is Guilty as Charged
Nov16 Saturday Q&A
Nov15 The Day After...
Nov15 Diplomacy, Trump Style
Nov15 Today in Emoluments News: Trump International DC
Nov15 Amazon Sues the Pentagon
Nov15 The State of the Democratic Race, Part I: National Polls
Nov15 The State of the Democratic Race, Part II: Early State Polls
Nov15 Longshot Candidates Become a Little Bit Longer Shots
Nov15 It's Déjà Vu All Over Again
Nov14 Taylor and Kent Testify
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