• This Week's Witness List
• A Tale of Two Photographs
• Mike Pompeo May Be Interested in A New Job
• Sessions May Want His Old Job Back
• North Carolina Republicans Suffer Another Gerrymander Defeat
• Florida Republicans Forced to Postpone Annual Event
• Rep. Greg Walden Will Retire
One of the main complaints that Republicans in Congress have about the Democrats' impeachment inquiry is that it has thus far been conducted behind closed doors, and without much in the way of formal rules. It's hard to accept that the GOP folks really and truly care about this, since they've conducted many investigations of their own behind closed doors and without much in the way of rules (see, for example, Benghazi). Nonetheless, it makes a pretty good talking point.
House Democrats are ready to take that talking point away and so, on Monday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced that her caucus will vote later this week to formalize the procedures for the impeachment investigation into Donald Trump and Ukraine. The resolution will establish rules for public hearings, outline due process rights for the White House, and facilitate the transfer of information to the House Judiciary Committee, which is the one that would ultimately have to approve the articles of impeachment. This is the first time that Trump-related impeachment proceedings will be entered into the official record of the House.
This development matters for two reasons, in particular. The first is that this is yet another big step on the road to impeachment. It's not quite authorizing a formal inquiry, but it's adjacent to that. And if the odds that the House ultimately votes to impeach were 95% before this, they are now up to something like 98% or 99%.
The second is that this is going to force Republicans to regroup and to try to find a new line of attack. Maybe they will be able to do so, and maybe they won't. Some GOP senators, like Josh Hawley (MO), tried to keep up the good fight. He declared that the House's proposed resolution was woefully inadequate, describing it as a "fig leaf." On the other hand, other members of the party's caucus said they had gotten what they wanted. Deb Fischer (NE), for example, said "I'm glad the House has responded, and they're going to have transparent proceedings. We've seen what we've wanted to see." At very least, Monday's news takes the wind out of the sails of the resolution that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was working on, which specifically called for transparency and for the proceedings to be governed by formal rules. And if he tries for something more broad, like a condemnation of the entire inquiry, he might not find nearly so many co-sponsors.
The upshot is that we're going to see some pretty big moves in the chess game this week. At the moment, it's the Speaker's turn to move. (Z)
The Democrats have had pretty good luck getting people to show up on the Hill and testify, allowing their impeachment investigation to move forward with great rapidity (see above). This week, they're going to hear from two more, and possibly three more, folks who may be able to fill in a few more pieces of the puzzle:
- Charles Kupperman: Donald Trump's former deputy national security
adviser was actually supposed to appear yesterday. However, he does not feel he can choose between
the president's marching orders and the Congress' subpoena, so he's
Judge Richard Leon to decide. There has been no ruling yet, so Kupperman
his appointment with Congress on Monday. However, Leon has
to fast-track Kupperman's case, which is double bad news for Team Trump. First, because it could set
a precedent that leads other wavering witnesses to show up and testify. Second, because Kupperman
was reportedly listening in on the infamous phone conversation with Volodymyr Zelensky, so he
presumably has some very interesting (and not yet publicly known) things to share, if and when the
Judge tells him to present himself before the committees.
- Lt. Col. Andrew Vindman: Vindman is the top Ukraine expert on the
National Security Council. He will definitely be showing up for his hearing today, and
tell the relevant House committees that he was deeply concerned by the Zelensky phone call, and that
he was convinced the scheme would undermine national security. He will also say that he twice
brought his concerns to John Eisenberg (the NSC's top lawyer) and that while he is not the
whistleblower, he can corroborate the whistleblower's main claims.
- Tim Morrison: Like Vindman, Morrison is a member of the National Security Council, and is going to make his scheduled appearance before the House (Thursday) regardless of what Team Trump says. He will be the first current White House official to testify and, like Kupperman, he too was reportedly on the Zelensky phone call. There have been rumors that he will affirm Bill Taylor's bombshell testimony from last week, but Morrison and his lawyer are playing it close to the vest, so we're going to have to wait to find out what he has to say. Could be very interesting.
One can only imagine what Trump's people are telling him to keep him from blowing his stack, but this process is definitely not going well for him. (Z)
Donald Trump tries very hard to be the anti-Obama, except on those occasions when he's mimicking Barack Obama note-for-note. The 44th president and his team ordered and witnessed the death of a major terrorist leader, which produced one of the iconic shots of his presidency. The 45th president and his team also ordered and witnessed the death of a major terrorist leader. The Donald decided he wanted his own iconic photo and had it snapped; the image was publicly released on Monday. Here are the two photos:
One cannot help but notice that, despite documenting similar moments, the two photos are quite different. Some of the most notable points of comparison:
- Spontaneity: The Obama photo is clearly unstaged and unposed; if the
team had known that Pete Souza was about to take one of the most memorable shots of the Obama
presidency, then, at very least, Joe Biden would be less rumpled, Obama wouldn't be slouching, and
Hillary Clinton wouldn't have a classified document visible in front of her (later obscured through
photoshopping). The Trump photo, on the other hand, is clearly posed. Everyone is sitting at
attention, and consciously wearing their very best "this is serious" expression.
- The Moment in Time: Team Obama is definitely watching the proceedings;
the folks in the room later said the shot was taken just moments after the team had learned that one
of the helicopters in the operation had crashed. Team Trump, on the other hand, isn't actually
watching the operation at this particular moment. They couldn't be; the photographer would be in
their line of sight. This has given rise to a conspiracy theory that the photo was
minutes or hours after the attack was already over. Doubtful, but not impossible.
- Lighting: The Obama photo relies on the ambient lighting in the room,
and possibly a portable flash. The Trump photo is being lit by substantial photographic equipment,
probably a softbox light or two. The room's ambient light could not produce an image that bright and
with that warm a tone.
- Camera angle: The Obama shot is taken from slightly above, which has
the effect of making the subjects look a little smaller, more human, and more vulnerable. The Trump
shot is taken from slightly below, which is supposed to make the subjects look more imposing
- The President: Obama is off in the corner in his image, and is not the
central figure of the image (the eye is first drawn to Brig. Gen. Marshall B. Webb, or possibly
Hillary Clinton). If you did not know who these people were, you would not know Obama is the most
powerful person in the room. In the Trump image, he is at the center and is the focal point.
- Presidential Seal: Obscured in the Obama image, directly above the President's head in the Trump image.
In the end, this probably isn't all that important, but it is an interesting case study in photographic composition, as well as a reminder that one of Trump's first thoughts upon the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was "I am going to get some great PR out of this." The bad news for the Donald is that his photo is never going to be iconic, like Obama's is. Iconic photos cannot be planned in advance or staged, they just happen. And if they involve human subjects, they require, at the minimum, real and compelling emotion. Anyone who looks at the Obama photo sees that the emotion on the President's face, or on Clinton's, or on Secretary of Defense Robert Gates', is genuine. The tension is real. We're not sure what emotion that Mike Pence or Donald Trump is supposed to be communicating, but unless it's "my stomach hurts," then it's not real, and it's certainly not compelling. (Z)
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo surely knows that the overwhelming odds are that he's a short-timer. First of all, because pretty much every Donald Trump cabinet member is, in the end, a short-timer. Particularly those secretaries who lead the departments that make Trump cranky, like State, DHS, and Defense. Second, because there is a good chance the entire administration will be swept out of office just over a year from now. Third, because Pompeo is at least somewhat exposed on this Ukraine business—the Ukrainepot Dome scandal, some are calling it—and we may soon reach "every man for himself" time.
Given that, even if everything breaks right, the upper bound on Pompeo's cabinet career is five more years, it's a little surprising that he hasn't already announced a Senate run, since that job has an upper bound of something like 48 more years (if Pompeo pulls a Strom Thurmond and serves into his hundreds). At very least, recognizing that the lower bound on his Cabinet career is "until the President wakes up in the morning and gets out his iPhone," it's not surprising that the Secretary has declined to shut the door on the Kansas Senate seat that would pretty much be his for the taking. On the most recent occasion where Pompeo was asked if he's planning a run, last week, he said:
I think I've answered this question. I think this is number 103 or 104 times. My mission set every day when I wake up is incredibly clear. Our task at the State Department is to use all our skill to keep the American people safe, to execute American diplomacy, to make sure that American markets are open for Kansas products all around the world. That's what I'm focused on. And it's what I continue, intend to continue to be focused on.
The careful reader will notice that the word "no," does not appear anywhere in there, much less the Full Sherman.
Also of interest to many folks is that, despite a rather significant foreign operation being underway, Pompeo is nowhere to be found in the picture above. He's not in the frame because he was not in the room when the shot was taken. And he was not in the room because he was...in Kansas, for a meet-and-greet. Undoubtedly, he had many high-level meetings with important foreign diplomats in Wichita and Olathe. Pompeo is so obviously walking both sides of the street as a phantom Senate candidate that the Kansas City Star expressed its frustration in an op-ed headlined "Mike Pompeo, either quit and run for U.S. Senate in Kansas or focus on your day job." In theory he has until June 1 of next year to decide, though if he's really going to run, he will likely need to decide by Jan. 1 or so. If he does decide there's no place like home, the Democrats' hopes of flipping that seat, which are faint as it is, will be swept away on a tornado. (Z)
Kansas is not the only state where the Democrats' somewhat shaky Senate hopes could soon be dashed. Former Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions is reportedly "seriously considering" a run for the seat he vacated so he could serve as Donald Trump's whipping boy...er, Attorney General, for a couple of years. He's getting a lot of encouragement from some of his old allies, including the Club for Growth.
Sessions would have a few things going against him if he does decide to re-enter the fray. First, he would not automatically get his seniority back and, absent special considerations, 72 is a little long in the tooth to be starting over. Second, there's already a pretty crowded primary field, including several GOP members of the House, along with former judge and accused child molester Roy Moore. Third, Trump hates Sessions now, and would presumably try to torpedo the candidacy. Whatever happens, though, it's very hard to believe that Sessions would finish behind Moore. And as long as Moore is not the nominee, Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) is in some pretty serious trouble. Sessions, for his part, has about a week to decide; Alabama's filing deadline is Nov. 8. (Z)
According to Chief Justice John Roberts, political gerrymanders are not the concern of federal courts. And Roberts' opinion makes that the (federal) law of the land. However, North Carolina also has state laws that forbid political gerrymanders, and Roberts gets no say about those. The state legislature, which is dominated by Republicans because of the aforementioned political gerrymanders, keeps cranking out GOP-friendly maps. And North Carolina courts keep striking them down. Monday marked the latest defeat for Tar Heel Republicans, as a three-judge panel granted an injunction against the latest congressional district map, ruling that the Democrats would likely be able to prove it runs afoul of state law.
The NC GOP may try to press its luck again, but the judges aren't fooling around, and made clear they are willing to postpone the state's primaries if it comes to that. Further, during the last round of map-dancing, the judges flexed their muscles, and state GOP came up with a pretty legit legislative district map. Currently, North Carolina is just about evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, but the House delegation has 10 Republicans against just 3 Democrats. If a more balanced Congressional district map is adopted, that could be enough to flip 2-3 seats in the direction of the blue team. (Z)
The biggest event staged by the Republican Party of Florida each year is the Statesman's Dinner, which serves as both a mega-fundraiser and a pep rally for the state's GOP pooh-bahs. This year's event was scheduled for Nov. 9, but now it's been postponed, as the party sold virtually no seats or sponsorships. Such a postponement is unprecedented in the time the event has been held.
At very least, this illustrates the extent to which the Florida GOP is in disarray. There was recently a bitter power struggle that led to the ousting of several longtime, high-ranking officials in favor of folks loyal to Donald Trump and to Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). Taking over as the new executive director was Peter O'Rourke, who has since become enmeshed in scandal due to his not so ethical work at the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs (essentially burying whistleblower complaints and otherwise making anything unfriendly to Trump disappear).
In addition, the spoiled dinner could also suggest two additional hard truths for the state GOP. The first is that DeSantis, as de facto head of the state party, appears to be a pretty mediocre party leader. The second is that Republican enthusiasm may be a bit wanting heading into 2020. In a state where elections are generally decided by razor-thin margins, power stuggles, bad leadership, and low enthusiasm would all be bad things. The good news for the GOP is that the Florida Democrats are also having trouble selling tickets and sponsorships for their annual fundraiser, so we could be looking at an election decided by which party's supporters are least uninterested. (Z)
Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) has won election 11 times, and surely could have run the total to 12 if he had wanted to. He's also gotten good reviews from both sides of the aisle for his work as the highest-ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and he could have served two more years before bumping up against the GOP's "mandatory rotation" rules for committee leadership. However, there are many issues on which he doesn't see eye-to-eye with Donald Trump, like Russian interference in the elections, global warming, and the border wall. Since it's not much fun to be in the minority, and to have a president he's not enthusiastic about in the White House, the Representative has decided to call it a career.
This makes Walden the 19th Republican to retire this cycle, as compared to 6 Democrats. It is clear, at this point, that the folks who are most fully in the loop do not foresee the Democrats losing the House in 2020. Walden's district, OR-02, is one of the largest in the country and essentially covers the eastern two-thirds of the state. It's very white (89%) and very rural, which translates into a PVI of R+11. And that may be low; Trump won it by 21 points in 2016. In other words, despite Walden's retirement, the only congressional district in Oregon (of five) to be held by a Republican is nearly certain to remain in GOP hands. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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