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100 Days Until the Iowa Caucuses
Vulnerable Republicans Shrink from Defending Trump
Democrats Feel They No Longer Need Whistleblower
All Republicans Can Do Is Attack Impeachment Process
Federal Judge Holds Betsy DeVos In Contempt

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures?

There are two important things that are true of the current House GOP caucus. The first is that, thanks to the smaller size of Congressional districts, they are generally more partisan than their Senate counterparts (which is really saying something, given that the Senate GOP caucus includes Jim Inhofe, Tom Cotton, and Mike Rounds). The second is that, as members of the minority party, they have virtually no formal power in their chamber.

We got an excellent reminder of both of these truths on Wednesday. As the relevant House committees prepared to hear closed-door testimony from Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper, a group of Republican members who are not a part of those committees blew by security and descended upon the room, many of them equipped with cell phones or other recording devices (despite that being a violation of House rules). The GOP mob refused to leave, even when so ordered by the House Sergeant-at-Arms. They even had the temerity to order pizzas for lunch (and they didn't share). Finally, after five hours, the interlopers got tired and left.

You may recall that House Democrats, led by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), mounted a similar sort of protest back in 2016 when they were the minority, in an attempt to force a vote on a gun-control bill. Maybe this is no different. On the other hand, maybe it is. Lewis, for his part, has a fair bit of credibility when it comes to this sort of thing, as a major figure in the Civil Rights movement, and one of the original Freedom Riders. When he sits-in for something, it's very reasonable to think that he truly believes an injustice is being done. Further, Lewis & Co. were sitting in on the House floor, where they are entitled to be. House Republicans, on the other hand, just seem to be staging silly stunt after silly stunt, whether it was yesterday's sit-in, or Monday's attempt to censure Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), or Tuesday's demand that Schiff summon the whistleblower immediately for a public hearing. It's also worth noting that for all the complaints about process, House Democrats are actually following the rules, which includes allowing Republican members of the relevant committees to be present for all of the hearings.

In short, this has a strong whiff of desperation, accompanied by a strong undercurrent of sour grapes. And whether this is a legitimate form of protest or not, it's not going to work, even if the GOP stages sit-in after sit-in (as they threatened to do on Wednesday). Presumably they know this, and this is just political theater for the benefit of the base, and the fellow who resides at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Trump, for his part, may well enjoy this sort of kowtowing to his ego, but he would do well to note that the folks who really matter, the GOP senators, aren't participating in such shenanigans. In fact, most of them are either trying to stay hidden in their offices, or are signaling concern over what they've learned in the past few days. For example, the second highest-ranking Republican in the Senate, Majority Whip John Thune (R-SD), conceded that "The picture coming out...based on the reporting we've seen is, yeah, I would say it's not a good one."

Incidentally, Cooper did eventually get three hours of testimony in. Exactly what she said is not known, as House Democrats had no comment at the end of the day. They may not have wanted to say anything until Cooper's testimony is completed; because of the five-hour delay, she apparently did not finish telling her tale, and will have to return sometime in the future. We do know she was defying Presidential orders in order to be there, so she presumably did not help the administration's position with whatever she said. We also know that Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) claimed that Cooper's account conflicted in some ways with what Bill Taylor said on Tuesday. However, given that Meadows is just a wee bit truth-challenged, it's probably best to take anything he says on this subject with a barrel of salt. (Z)

Correction: Earlier reporting on the story said that the number of Republican interlopers was in the dozens, but it turns out that many of those were folks entitled to be there, and who were just standing with their gate-crashing colleagues as a show of support. The actual number of non-invited Republicans appears to have been about a dozen.

Zelensky Knew the Score Well Before Trump Called

When it comes to the Ukraine situation, Donald Trump's accounting of the matter is now full of holes. We're talking Swiss cheese, here. And another big one opened up on Wednesday, when the Associated Press reported that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky held a three-hour meeting with his advisors more than two weeks before he was sworn in as president. During that meeting, the main (and, really, sole) topic of conversation was that Zelensky knew he would be expected to perform personal favors for Trump. Team Zelensky also inferred that failure to play ball could result in the loss of military aid.

This knocks yet another tentpole out from under Trump's defense. The Donald and his underlings have argued that during the infamous phone conversation between the two presidents, Zelensky never sensed a quid pro quo, and certainly never knew that the aid to his country was in danger of being withheld. Actually, he was entirely aware of both long before he ended up on the phone with Trump. At this point, between this story, Bill Taylor's testimony, and "Acting" Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney's screw-ups, we're not sure if there's any part of the President's story that has not been controverted. (Z)

Trump Capitulates Completely on Syria

About a week ago, we proposed that when it came to Turkey and Syria, Donald Trump might have chosen the best of a lot of bad options. We wondered if Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had advised that he was going to attack regardless, and the only thing left to Trump was to decide whether or not to get U.S. troops out of harm's way. We drew a specific comparison and a broad one, to Yalta and to the Cold War, arguing that what happened in Syria might have parallels in those occasions where U.S. presidents were forced to back down in order to prevent war with the Soviet Union.

We would like to formally withdraw that thesis. During the Cold War, frustrated presidents may have sometimes bowed to Soviet military power, but they kept up the pressure in other ways, whether through diplomacy, or economic sanctions, or propaganda, or winning at basketball or hockey. Trump, for his part, has dropped any pretense of putting pressure on or punishing Turkey for their behavior. On Wednesday, the President bragged about "what a great outcome" he'd managed, and lifted the sanctions he imposed on Oct. 15, meaning they didn't even last to the end of the month.

It is not merely that Trump lifted the sanctions, however, it's that he is literally toting the water of America's enemies. While talking to the press on Wednesday, he spun a tale of events in Syria that was at least 90% fantasy, claiming that the U.S. was only supposed to be there for 30 days, that the cease fire is going to be permanent, and that ISIS remains thoroughly defeated. He also "humbly" observed that "It's too early for me to be congratulated." All of this despite the fact that Trump's own ambassador to Syria, Jim Jeffrey, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday that the Turks likely committed war crimes against the Kurds, that Trump's Secretary of Defense Mark Esper admitted that at least 100 ISIS members escaped from U.S. custody and nobody knows where they are, and that Turkey and Russia have just signed a power-sharing agreement that expands the influence of both in the Middle East, and thus substantially changes the dynamics of the region.

There is still much anger being directed from the Hill in Trump's direction, and that includes many Republican members of Congress. And the American public, according to a new Politico/Morning Consult poll, opposes the withdrawal, 43% to 37%. At the moment, the President is not taking all that much heat, probably because impeachment is sucking up all the oxygen. But if visual evidence of Turkish war crimes comes to light, all bets are off. (Z)

The Great Wall of...Colorado?

Donald Trump was in Pittsburgh Wednesday afternoon to deliver a speech. And, as he usually does, he set aside a fair bit of time to extol some of the accomplishments of his administration. That included this revelation: "We're building a wall on the border of New Mexico. And we're building a wall in Colorado." Reportedly, there was a visible reaction from the crowd, whose members have apparently passed fourth grade geography, and who therefore know that Colorado doesn't border Mexico.

There is, of course, no wall being built in Colorado or anywhere else. There is also no plausible explanation for how Trump might have misspoken. Nope, it was just a baldfaced lie. Normally, we don't take note of his lies, because if we did so, we wouldn't have time to write about anything else. However, his always-tenuous relationship with the truth just seems to be getting worse and worse. Maybe it's desperation, maybe he feels empowered by having gotten away with so much for so long, or maybe it's some form of mental dysfunction. Whatever the case may be, one can only imagine what it's going to be like when he runs a whole presidential campaign in this state of mind. His base obviously tolerated a lot of bending of the truth in 2016, but is there a point at which some of them reach their limits? (Z)

Is This What Trump's Lawyers Are Telling Him?

Speaking of things that surely encourage or enable bad behavior by Donald Trump, his lawyer William Consovoy was in court yesterday to argue that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance shouldn't be allowed to have the President's tax returns. The basic case that Consovoy is making is that the President is not only above any and all criminal prosecution while in office, he's also above being investigated for such. Judge Denny Chin wanted to explore exactly how far Consovoy was willing to take that argument, and asked if Trump could be prosecuted if he followed through on his famous brag that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it. The counselor was consistent, we'll give him that, because he insisted that even a murder would go unprosecuted while the President was in office.

The argument that Trump cannot even be investigated has already been rejected by one federal judge (Victor Marrero), and it's obviously about to be rejected again. Marrero also wrote that the Justice Dept. policy that the President and his lawyers are relying on to keep him safe had no basis in law. If Team Trump is not careful, a judge is going to go further and try to strike down that policy. Or, someone who is not bound by Justice Dept. rules (say, New York AG Letitia James) is going to decide that she doesn't want to wait anymore, and is going to file criminal charges against Trump. And even if neither of these things comes to pass, the President clearly acts recklessly due to his claimed above-the-law status. That's well and good, but he's setting himself up for quite a fall when his presidency, and with it any claim for that special status, comes to an end. (Z)

Trump Looking Weak in Many Swing States, Against Many Democrats

In the last week or so, pollsters have looked at how Donald Trump is doing against the leading Democratic candidates in the swing states of Wisconsin (Marquette), Florida (UNF), Minnesota (Star Tribune/Mason-Dixon), Iowa (Emerson), North Carolina (ECU), and Maine (PPP). Here's how they have the matchups:

State Trump Biden Trump Warren Trump Sanders Trump Buttigieg Trump Harris
Wisconsin 44% 50% 46% 47% 46% 48% 45% 43% N/A N/A
Florida 43% 48% 43% 46% N/A N/A 43% 42% 44% 41%
Minnesota 38% 50% 40% 51% 40% 49% N/A N/A N/A N/A
Iowa 51% 49% 51% 49% 49% 51% N/A N/A N/A N/A
North Carolina 46% 50% 49% 48% 48% 49% 49% 47% 49% 47%
Maine 42% 54% 43% 53% 43% 53% 43% 52% 44% 50%

Some observations:

  • There are a lot more blue cells in that table than red ones
  • In Trump's best states, he is leading only some of the Democrats, and even then by just a small margin
  • In Trump's worst states, he is trailing most or all of the Democrats, often by a large margin
  • Trump, of course, needs to win a sizable majority of the swing states to be reelected. If he is a small (or large) underdog in many of them, and many of the rest are coin flips, he cannot plausibly do that.
  • What is going on at UNF that they polled Harris and Buttigieg matchups, but not Sanders?

Still over a year until the election, of course, but if it were held today, Trump would lose. And all of these polls were done before Bill Taylor shared what he did. (Z)

If You Really Like Dick's, You May Get Your Dream Candidate

Quite a few wealthy businessmen have flirted with vanity campaigns this cycle, most prominently Tom Steyer (who took the plunge), and Howard Schultz and Michael Bloomberg (who didn't). Now, there's yet another fellow who thinks that money and business experience might be just what America needs. After all, it is working so well with the current inhabitant of the White House, so why not make this the new normal? It's Ed Stack, CEO of Dick's Sporting Goods, who is pondering a third-party run, and has been commissioning studies to determine what sorts of messaging might land with voters.

In the end, Stack will probably decide it's not worth it. That said, he's a longtime GOP donor, and is a particularly big fan of...Pierre Delecto. Er, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT). So, Stack is more likely to attract Republican votes than Democratic ones. Further, if he really wants to get on the ballot, the best way would be to secure the Libertarian nomination. A NeverTrump Republican running on the Libertarian ticket who can write his own campaign a check for $50 million could certainly make a dent in the President's vote totals—very possibly a fatal dent.

Speaking of the Libertarian Party, it's been pretty quiet lately. In 2016, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson was its nominee and got 3.3% of the total vote cast (over 4 million votes). The LP will hold nonbinding primaries and caucuses in 2020 and the nominee will be chosen at the Party's convention in Austin, TX, to be held May 21-25, 2020. So far no high-profile candidates have announced they want the nomination. If someone like Stack or Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) were to announce, he might get it and have an impact on the race.

The same holds for the Green Party. Jill Stein, its 2012 and 2016 nominee, has said she is not going to run in 2020, so the Party doesn't have a nominee yet. Or even a convention date. If the Democrats nominate Joe Biden, some of the millennials may be very disappointed and dredge up their 2016 slogan "I'm not voting for the lesser of two evils," and vote for the Green Party candidate, whoever that may be. So the LP and GP candidates, while very unlikely to get even a single electoral vote, could have a major impact on who wins the presidency. (Z & V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct23 The Impeachment Drums Are Beating Louder
Oct23 Trump Says He's Being Lynched
Oct23 Trump Isn't Going to Like Either of These Books
Oct23 Mnuchin, Conway Under Consideration as Mulvaney Replacements
Oct23 Reports of Joe Biden's Demise May Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
Oct23 Senate Map Gets More Wide Open by the Day
Oct23 Is the Trump Organization Embarrassed To Be the TRUMP Organization?
Oct22 Democrats Don't Want Impeachment to be a Turkey
Oct22 Supreme Court Sustains Political Gerrymanders Yet Again
Oct22 Trump's Hands Are Tied on DHS
Oct22 State Department Concludes that Hillary Clinton Did Not Break the Law with Her E-mails
Oct22 You Can't Make This Up
Oct22 Trump Likely to Lose a Close Ally...
Oct22 ...But He Gets to Keep A Nemesis
Oct21 What's the Current Version of the Administration's Story?, Part I: The Quid Pro Quo
Oct21 What's the Current Version of the Administration's Story?, Part II: The G-7 and Doral
Oct21 Life Gets Harder When You're the Frontrunner
Oct21 Gabbard and Clinton Take Off the Gloves
Oct21 Felons May Get to Vote in Florida, After All
Oct21 Mattis Hits Trump Where it Hurts
Oct21 Another Apostate Will Leave the House
Oct20 Sunday Mailbag
Oct19 Saturday Q&A
Oct18 Mike Pence Practices "The Art of the Deal"
Oct18 "Mick the Knife" Stabs Trump in the Back
Oct18 Sondland Points the Finger at Giuliani
Oct18 Perry Is Definitely Exiting the Administration
Oct18 2020 G-7 Summit "Awarded" to Trump Doral
Oct18 Biden's Biggest Problem? It Might Be Money
Oct18 Would a Biden Collapse Create a Lane for Another Centrist?
Oct17 Elijah Cummings Has Passed Away
Oct17 The Parade of Witnesses Goes Marching On
Oct17 Trump's Inner Circle Could Be in Big Trouble
Oct17 Trump Is Betting That Isolationism Is a Winner
Oct17 This Is Not Normal Behavior
Oct17 ProPublica: Trump May Have Committed Financial Fraud
Oct17 Senate Democrats Will Force Republicans to Vote on Health Care
Oct17 Ohio Debate Takeaways
Oct16 Democratic Debate Tour Stops in Ohio
Oct16 Kent: "Three Amigos" Ran Ukraine Policy
Oct16 No Formal Vote on Impeachment Inquiry, for Now
Oct16 Ocasio-Cortez to Endorse Sanders
Oct16 Aspiring Collins Challenger Is Raking It In
Oct15 Fiona Hill Piqued By Giuliani's Behavior
Oct15 Trump Sanctions Turkey
Oct15 Trump Reportedly Wanted to Release His Tax Returns in 2013
Oct15 Administration Loses another Border Wall Ruling
Oct15 Hunter Biden Tries to Quell the Storm
Oct15 Warren Gets Three Good Polls on the Eve of Debate #4
Oct15 Will the Democrats Find New Ground to Cover Tonight?