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      •  Saturday Q&A

Saturday Q&A

Q&A time. Hopefully everyone has come down off the contact high they got from reading the Sanders item from yesterday. We begin today with another big dose of impeachment questions, which will presumably be a regular phenomenon for the foreseeable future.

Q: If impeachment by the Democrat-led House is a near inevitability, I'd like to know if you think some or many Republican senators will simply skip the vote during a Senate trial. Article 1, Sec. 3 of the Constitution says, "And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present." What if twenty Republican senators just don't show up? P.N., Austin, TX

A: That passage could be read in two ways. The first possibility is something like this: "No person shall be convicted without the votes of two-thirds of the senators who are in the room when it comes time to vote." The second is something like this: "Two-thirds of the senators must be present, and must vote for conviction, for someone to be convicted." This question came up a couple of times way back in the 19th century, including during Andrew Johnson's impeachment trial, and the reading that they settled upon then was the second one. In other words, you have to have two-thirds of all the Senators who currently hold office, not two-thirds of the Senators who happen to be in the room. Presumably that precedent will hold this time around, which means that if no Senate seat comes vacant, it will take 67 votes to boot Donald Trump out of office.

In theory, then, a little quorum-jumping would bring the proceedings to a halt. However, there would be little purpose in doing so. By Senate rules, that body can do nothing else until they finish with the impeachment trial. And since the articles of impeachment come from the House, they cannot be modified or withdrawn (like a bill that came from the Senate theoretically could be). So, this kind of stunt would just waste everyone's time, without achieving much of anything. It would also make Chief Justice John Roberts cranky, and he might send out the Capitol police to arrest the absentees and force them to cast their votes. And if the senators are present, but merely refuse to deliver a "yea" or a "nay," then there is a significant risk that Roberts (or the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough) declares them to be there for purposes of quorum, but to be casting "present" votes. That has happened before, and if it was the ruling here, then it would mean that the Democrats would need considerably fewer votes to convict. If, for example, 20 GOP senators clammed up and refused to vote, the Democrats would potentially be able to convict with just 53 votes.

In short, this sort of shenanigans would do very little to help Trump, and could actually do harm to him. Meanwhile, it wouldn't solve the senators' dilemmas, either. In fact, refusing to vote could anger partisans on both sides of the issue, since many pro-conviction and anti-conviction voters are quite likely to punish any senator who does not deliver exactly the vote they want.

Q: Does Bill Taylor have a pension he needs to worry about? It might add more credence to his already damning testimony if it comes out that he might pay a financial price for having given it. M.B., St. Paul, MN

A: If you really want the scoop on that point, this article from U.S. government personnel expert George Ray explores the question in great detail. But the short answer is that Taylor's pension is in no danger. He had already retired and qualified for a full pension, given his age (72) and years of service (50). As the linked article explains, it's quite hard for a government employee to lose their pension, unless they commit some sort of direct crime against the federal government (like, say, espionage).

You may be thinking of the case of Andrew McCabe, who was fired by the Trump administration 26 hours before his scheduled retirement. Even McCabe will get a pension, since he had more than five years of federal service under his belt. All that the firing did was reduce the amount of the pension, and raise the age at which he can collect it.

Q: Can you share your thoughts on the impact of a possible impeachment trial in the Senate from a logistical impact on the 2020 primaries? What I mean is, if the president is impeached, the sitting senators running for President (Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar) would have to go back to Washington, and not spend their time at rallies or fundraisers or selfie lines. What does that do to the race? Do the rest get the field to themselves? Or is all of the voters' attention going to be devoted to watching C-SPAN? J.O., Columbia, MD

A: To start, the Senators are already juggling their day jobs and their campaigns, and all are in Washington pretty regularly. They're quite good at squeezing campaign events in while they are not needed in Washington (like, say, on weekends).

Even if an impeachment trial did suck up more of their campaigning time than usual, our guess is that would actually work to their advantage. Consistent with the final portion of your question, an impeachment trial would be mega-news, very possibly the greatest political drama of all time. Being seen on camera, and being interviewed by reporters at the end of each day, would be great publicity for the senators, and of far greater value than showing up for yet another cattle call in Ames, Iowa.

Q: It has been suggested that a number of Republican Senators may feel freer to speak and vote against Donald Trump once their states' filing deadlines for the 2020 Senate elections have passed. I assume most of those deadlines are somewhat later in 2020, well beyond the time when the Democrats would like to have voted on Articles of Impeachment. Do you have a table of those deadlines, and those Senators whom you think could be most and least so "liberated"? R.M., Virginia Beach, VA

A: The table you want is here. Two states (Alabama and Arkansas) have their filing deadlines in November, three more (Illinois, Texas, and North Carolina) have them in December, and another three (Mississippi, West Virginia, and Kentucky) have them in January. There are none in February, so unless the Democrats really blow the timeline they've been bandying about, then we're talking about only eight states.

The logic here, of course, is that any senator who votes against Trump could inspire a last-minute challenger from the right that they would have to fight off. Interestingly, all eight of the states listed above have a Senate race in 2020, although two involve Democrats running for reelection (Doug Jones, AL, and Dick Durbin, IL). The Republicans who are up in the early-filing-deadline states are Tom Cotton (AR), John Cornyn (TX), Mitch McConnell (KY), Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS), Thom Tillis (NC), and Shelley Moore Capito (WV). We are somewhat skeptical that senators will change their votes the moment the filing deadline in their states pass, however. Most of these folks are from very red states and are likely to stick with Trump to the bitter end, and the ones who are not—most obviously Tillis, but also Cornyn—are already facing serious primary challenges.

Q: I learned, as a result of the coverage of the attempt by several GOP representatives to crash the Laura Cooper hearing, that these closed door hearings involve multiple committees. In particular, the Cooper hearing involved members from the Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees, as well as Intelligence.

My first question: Why weren't the members of the Judiciary, Financial Services, and Ways and Means committees invited? Are they totally out of the impeachment inquiry business?

My second question: By House rules, the actual articles of impeachment have to be prepared by the Judiciary Committee. Given that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) didn't have enough confidence in Rep. Jerrold Nadler's (D-NY) skills to be in charge of the inquiry, how can she have confidence in him to handle the drafting of the impeachment articles themselves? Won't she want to (at least temporarily) put someone else in charge for that task?
S.C., Mountain View, CA

A: The members of the other committees are definitely still in the investigation business, but they are focusing on other sorts of things, like emoluments. When it comes to all the testimony from Ukraine-related folks, there are a number of reasons not to include committees whose focus is really unrelated to that matter. The Capitol building doesn't have hearing rooms that seat that many people. Further, these hearings are a huge time suck and are lasting 5-10 hours each. That makes participation in them a full-time job; someone has to work on non-Ukraine things. Finally, if other committees are invited, that increases the number of Republicans who may pull stunts or who may leak things they should not leak. Add it all up, and the House Democratic caucus chose their list of committees carefully and prudently.

While the Judiciary Committee will be the one to formally adopt the articles of impeachment, you can be certain the articles will be a group effort, with significant input from Pelosi, the relevant committee chairs, and a sizable number of the lawyers employed by House Democrats. Nadler is no dope, but even if he were, there is no risk of him screwing up the articles of impeachment.

Q: Are you aware of any polling for a potential 2020 presidential election matching Mike Pence versus any Democrats or generic Democrat? If such polling existed and showed that Mike Pence would be competitive or possibly even leading some or all Democrats, might that not give cover to any Republican senators who may feel inclined to convict Trump? R.C., Des Moines, IA

A: This question has really only started to come up in the last month (wonder why?), and only a few pollsters ask it. However, the results we do have confirm exactly what we were already confident was the case: Pence is a very weak general election candidate. For example, he is losing to all of the leading Democrats in Ohio, and he is losing to all of the leading Democrats in Florida. What that means is that, as things currently stand, Mike Pence is no cure for what ails the GOP. If he assumes the presidency and is impressive in some way, he might become a stronger candidate. But we doubt it, especially since Trump would politely (or not so politely) demand a pardon for himself and his whole family on the way out the door. If he granted the pardons, Democrats and many independents would be infuriated (see: Ford, Gerald). If he didn't, Republicans would be infuriated. It is a lose-lose situation for him.

Q: Given that the polling was wrong about Trump in 2016, why should we think that polling that shows him losing in 2020 is correct? Or, subsequently, that 50 percent of Americans want him impeached and removed? T.E., New York, NY

A: There has been plenty of time to pore over the polling from 2016, and the consensus among scholars is...the polls were basically as accurate as they've ever been. That is to say, they did a pretty good job during the general election, and a pretty shaky job during the primaries. FiveThirtyEight has all the gory details, if you want them.

The perception that things went badly awry in 2016 is fueled primarily by two things. The first is that the pollsters stopped polling the "blue wall" states in the upper Midwest, and so missed how close they had become, particularly after James Comey made his last-minute announcement about more e-mails being found. The second is that sometimes an underdog wins. Depending on whom you were reading, Hillary Clinton's chance of victory was anywhere from 66% to 95%. If we take the middle point of those numbers, then it gives us an 80% chance of a Clinton victory. That meant that there was a 20% chance of a Trump victory, just as there was a 20% chance Illinois would beat Wisconsin in football last week (which they did).

On top of that, when it comes to a binary choice like "I want Trump impeached," that's considerably easier to poll than something like how people will vote next November. First, because there's a lot of time between now and next November. Second, because some people won't actually get to their polling places to vote. Third, because some voters are more committed to a candidate than others are. Fourth, because it's difficult to predict exactly what the electorate will look like. All of those things make it much tougher to foresee what will happen on Election Day. But none of these issues apply when asking people how they feel about a specific issue at this very moment.

Q: In 2016, there was the oft-cited "Blue Wall," which didn't work out for Clinton, with the losses in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Assuming those states are now swing states, what is the base number of electoral votes that any Democratic nominee now count on? Would those plus Texas going blue deliver the election to the Democrats? M.B., Noble, OK

A: Well, one way to answer that question would be to look at all the states that Democrats have won in each of the last five elections. Actually, you could extend that to six, and even seven, elections and it wouldn't change anything: 14 states, 192 electoral votes. In that scenario, Texas is not a kingmaker all by itself.

However, that approach almost certainly understates the number of states and EVs that the Democrats have in the bag. It's true that, during the Bush years, Colorado and Virginia (for example) went red. But there is really no chance they will do so in 2020. In fact, we would propose that the only state that Hillary Clinton won that Trump might flip is Nevada (and even that is a longshot). If so, then the Democrats actually begin 2020 with 17-3/4 states (Maine split its EVs) and 226 EVs in their hip pockets. Texas alone would only bring that to 264, but it's impossible to envision a scenario where Texas goes blue and Nevada goes red. So, for your hypothetical scenario, we have to put Nevada and its 6 EVs back in the Democratic column. And once we do that, then Texas would bring the Democrats to 270, which is a winner.

In short, there is no plausible scenario in which Donald Trump or any other Republican can survive Texas flipping to blue, even if they hold the former "blue wall" states. But keep in mind, for Texas to flip, there would have to be a blue wave of such force that North Carolina, Georgia, and Arizona would also flip, rendering Texas unnecessary.

Q: I have two questions for you. First, can you please stop attaching -gate to every scandal? Lewinskygate? Really?

Second, I noticed a lot of your reader questions seem to come from blue states. Is there any sort of metrics on what states readers come from to read your site, and what is the breakdown between red state readership and blue state readership?
D.M., Massapequa, NY

A: We gotta call it something, and Lewinskygate is a well-established name for that scandal. At least it's better than other well-established alternatives, namely "zippergate," "sexgate," and "tailgate."

As to our readership, we have some data on what states our visitors' IP addresses belong to, but that's not an especially precise way of measuring things. As with cell phone numbers, people can often have an IP that comes from a state other than the one they're connecting from. That said, our readership is well above average when it comes to how much education they have (on average), and they are largely urban dwellers (albeit with a few pickup-driving Oklahomans here and there). Both of those things are going to skew things in favor of blue-state residents.

Q: What is the meaning of the little game that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) is playing right now? On Political Wire, I just saw this report that she skipped an important candidates' event in Iowa in order to appear on Sean Hannity's show. Would you dismiss what Hillary Clinton has said about her? As the Washington Post's David Weigel wrote in his newsletter, Clinton didn't say exactly that Gabbard was a Russian asset, merely that Republicans were grooming her for a third-party candidacy. And if Clinton is right, what impact could a third-party or independent Gabbard bid have on the electorate on Nov. 3, 2020? E.K., Brignoles, France

A: For those who are not aware, Gabbard has been spending much time on Fox News this week, blasting the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton. She also said she will not stand for reelection to the House in 2020 (news that broke shortly after our Friday morning post went live).

There are several possible end-games that she might be eyeing. We would rank them thusly, from most to least likely:

  • A plum job on Fox News: Fox loves to hire people who will say nasty things about Democrats, but still have some "fair and unbiased" credibility (think: former Clinton advisor Dick Morris). And the channel has a gaping hole right now left by the sudden departure of Shep Smith. Gabbard could quickly become one of the network's stars, and she'd likely earn twenty times her congressional salary.

  • A third-party presidential bid: Such a thing might be motivated by a desire for publicity, or to bring attention to her pet issues (Syria?), or even by sour grapes.

  • A job in another Democrat's administration: Gabbard would be a pretty poor VP pairing for most Democrats, we think, though it's not impossible that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) selects her if he's the nominee. She would be a pretty good pick for Secretary of Veterans' Affairs, however, in just about any Democratic administration.

  • A run for the U.S. Senate: There has been no indication that either seat is going to be open anytime soon. It's at least possible, however, that Gabbard thinks she can challenge Brian Schatz from the right in 2022, or that the very popular Mazie Hirono will throw in the towel in 2024 at the age of 75.

  • The White House: Ending her House career and going on Fox to establish herself as an outsider who is so outside that she's practically a Republican could be a "Hail Mary" attempt to jumpstart her presidential campaign, but we doubt it. Surely, the Representative knows this is not her year.

These things are not exclusive of one another; she could—for example—run a third-party bid, and then take a job at Fox.

We do think it's quite reasonable to believe that Gabbard is being groomed by the Russians. Again, she doesn't have to be a knowing participant for that to be the case. All that has to happen is that she does what they want, which they have many techniques for subtly encouraging without interacting with her directly. In fact, as just about everyone has pointed out, running a third-party campaign would be exactly what Vlad Putin wants her to do, and what he has been encouraging with his troll farms for many months.

If Gabbard does run, she'll throw plenty of bombs in the direction of the Democratic candidate, but our guess is that she ends up drawing votes pretty equally from both sides, and has a limited effect on the election.

Q: You discussed the possibility that Ed Stack might possibly jump in as a third party candidate, potentially as the Green Party entry. Much has been made of Jill Stein's impact in 2016, but not much has been said regarding Gary Johnson, who got three times as many votes as Stein, including the oft-mentioned Wisconsin. Is the Libertarian vote seen as mostly being at the expense of the GOP? D.F., Birmingham, AL

A: Ed Stack is a long-time, Mitt Romney-loving Republican. And so, if he does go for the nomination of an existing third party (primarily as a way of securing ballot access), we said he will do it as a Libertarian, not a Green.

As to your question, just as there is a fair bit of overlap between the Greens and the Democrats, there is a fair bit of overlap between the Libertarians and the Republicans. In fact, the GOP has a well-established Libertarian wing (see: Paul, Rand and Ron). So while the Libertarian candidate might attract a few votes from pot-smoking gun-loving hippie types from Vermont, they invariably siphon off considerably more otherwise-Republican votes.

Q: The discussion of Hillary Clinton as a possible 2020 candidate had me thinking about the history of failed Presidential candidates. Even though she won the popular vote by 3 million votes, the concept of Clinton getting into the 2020 race seems absurd to many political pundits. It used to be very common in American presidential elections to renominate candidates even if they lost a presidential or vice-presidential bid. Richard Nixon, Grover Cleveland, and Andrew Jackson all lost presidential elections and came back to win. Franklin D. Roosevelt failed in his VP attempt and came back to win the presidency. Thomas Hendricks lost a presidential attempt and a vice-presidential attempt and was later elected vice president under Grover Cleveland. Charles Pinckney, Henry Clay, William Jennings Bryan, Thomas Dewey, and Adlai Stevenson ran multiple times and never won. Why was the recycling of candidates so common for the first 170 years of U.S. Presidential elections? Why did political parties suddenly stop renominating losing presidential candidates, even when those candidates won the popular vote, like Al Gore and Hillary Clinton did? J.Q., Pequannock, NJ

A: It's pretty simple. Conventions and smoke-filled rooms are willing to make the same choice (the same mistake?) multiple times. Primary and caucus voters? Not so much.

You will notice that, with the exception of Nixon, every person you name laid claim to their nomination before 1960, which means in the era when party big-wigs pretty much made the call. A well-connected candidate, or a candidate who was beloved by one of the wings of his party, could very plausibly rally the troops twice. That's considerably less likely today, as we can see from all the "not Hillary again" sentiment this year (and all the "not Gore again" sentiment in 2004). Further, a Bryan or a Dewey could take multiple bites at the apple without all that much work. Today, to even attempt two runs would require committing to almost four years of exhaustive campaigning. Or, in Hillary's case, ten years, since she's already gone through the rigmarole twice on her own behalf (2008 and 2016) and twice on her husband's behalf (1992 and 1996). It's not so easy to go through the wringer and then take the plunge again.

Q: What does it even matter if Bernie Sanders somehow wins the Presidency? Even by some miracle—if the Democrats can win the House/Senate and a Bernie presidency—won't every piece of progressive legislation be overturned by the Supreme Court? Republicans rallied around Trump because they know what matters and how to play the long game. They've secured the Court for the next 20 years. S.S., Durham, NC

A: Let us not forget our recent history. Donald Trump and Barack Obama have both shown us how very much can be changed with executive orders. Further, what seems inconceivable on the Congressional front can become conceivable awfully quickly. The Democrats had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate within the last decade. The GOP had an unimpeachable grip on the House as recently as 3 years ago.

As to the Supreme Court, they can't just overturn anything they want. There has to be a case for them to decide, and there has to be some legal basis for their decision. If Congress, for example, decides to spend $1 trillion on, say, green energy, the Supreme Court can't cancel that just because they don't like it. We would also suggest that the Republican grip on SCOTUS is not so strong as it may seem. If a Democrat wins the White House in 2020, and is reelected in 2024 (two things that are very much in the realm of possibility), then that would take Clarence Thomas, who has already pondered retirement, to the age of 80. In addition, Samuel Alito would be 75 and John Roberts would be 70. Do all three of those people stay on the bench until then? Maybe so, but it's far from guaranteed. And that's before we talk about any changes that might be made, like, say, a mandatory retirement age for justices. And don't forget the possibility of "packing" the Court. All that takes is for Congress to pass a law increasing the number of seats. No constitutional amendment is needed.

Q: I often hear that conservative voters are more likely to weigh the future composition of the Supreme Court (and federal courts generally) when they vote than liberal voters are. I'd bet that this fact is as frustrating to liberal justices—who would surely prefer like-minded colleagues—as it is to Democratic politicians. It makes me wonder what would happen if a definite, rather than a hypothetical, vacancy were at stake and (unlike in 2016) that vacancy came from the liberal side. What would happen if, say, Justice Stephen Breyer were to formally submit his resignation to the President today, giving a retirement date of June 30, 2021? Politically, would this motivate liberal or conservative voters more? Practically, could the White House and the Senate majority ignore the resignation date, and start the nomination/confirmation machinery running in spite of Breyer's intentions? J.W.F., Boulder, CO

A: This is one of those gray areas that has no crystal-clear answer. That said, a pair of scholars named Ross M. Stolzenberg and James Lindgren wrote a very thorough article examining this and other related questions entitled "Retirement and Death in Office of U.S. Supreme Court Justices." They believe that if a justice announces his or her retirement, it is probably non-rescindable, and the president and Senate can legally get to work on choosing a justice-in-waiting. So, if Breyer were to try something like that, it would likely backfire on him and the Democrats.

Of course, it is at least possible that a justice could strongly hint that they will be retiring "soon," without putting anything in writing. However, we doubt they would do that, as it would provide further, very blatant evidence that the court has become politicized. And such hints shouldn't be necessary, anyhow. If any voter does not know that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is surely going to leave the court during the next presidential term (i.e., 2021—25), they haven't been paying attention.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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
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