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      •  And the Beat Goes On
      •  Next Week, Trump Will Try to Change the Narrative...
      •  ...This Week, on the Other Hand
      •  Who Are the Vulnerable GOP Senators?

And the Beat Goes On

The Democrats, with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) taking the lead, put on the second day of their impeachment case on Thursday. And, to nobody's surprise, the status quo is holding. In fact, the status quo is probably becoming more entrenched.

A few months ago, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) botched the appearance of former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski before his committee. That caused Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to hand the impeachment baton, as it were, to House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA). Schiff, a former prosecutor, took it and ran with it, conducting hearings that produced all sorts of information relevant to the question of whether or not the President abused his office.

The impeachment trial has sustained Pelosi's judgment for a second time. Nadler, in his first appearance during the hearings, went so over-the-top with his rhetoric that he had Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) passing notes to John Roberts, asking that the Chief Justice/presiding officer give everyone a stern talking to (which he did). Even many Democrats were angry about Nadler's performance that evening. Schiff, on the other hand, is getting rave reviews from many different observers, including lawyers, politicians, advocacy groups, and the media. For example, Duke University law professor, and former acting Solicitor General of the United States Walter Dellinger described it as "one of the most impressive performances by a lawyer I have ever seen." In an impassioned statement at the end of Thursday's presentation, Schiff declared: "Right is supposed to matter. It's what made us the greatest nation on earth. No Constitution can protect us if right doesn'tmatter any more."

Schiff's remarks went over so well, in fact, that both the video of his performance, as well as the hashtag #RightMatters, trended nationally on Twitter:

Meanwhile, the right-leaning media has been tearing into Schiff (see here, here, here, and here for examples). And the President has been egging them on. One example (among many):

We would suggest this is actually further evidence of Schiff's effectiveness, along the lines of "They doth protest too much, methinks."

There are three pretty clear elements to the Democrats' Schiff-led impeachment strategy, and all were on display, once again, on Thursday:

  • Appeal to Voters: This is Team Schiff's main goal. They know that, barring a sea change in circumstances, Trump is not going to be convicted by the U.S. Senate. However, there is an excellent chance he will be impeached at the ballot box in November. Dramatic moments, like the "Right Matters" speech, exist primarily in service of this goal. Thus far, about 10 million TV viewers have tuned in for at least part of the trial. That's a lot, but it's also something of a drop in the bucket compared to how many Americans voted in 2016 (135 million), and how many voters there are. When Schiff goes viral, as he did Thursday, that's a big win for him and the Democrats.

  • Undercutting Trump's Defense: The President's legal team is like a blackjack player. They have relatively few cards to play, and the ones they do have are already on the table for everyone to see. So, the Democrats know full well what is coming, and are able to use part of their time to try to preempt it. For example, they brought up the Biden family, and talked about how they are a red herring (or maybe a blue herring) here. They also played videos of two legal experts arguing that a president does not need to commit a crime to be impeachable. Obviously, legal experts can disagree on the finer points of the law, but these two legal experts just so happen to be Alan Dershowitz, member of the defense team, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), member of the jury. Presumably, those opinions should carry a little more weight than some random law school faculty member. Note, incidentally, that it was Nadler who led the film session, and this time he didn't put his foot in it.

  • Holding Republican Senators' Feet to the Fire: A recurring theme, particularly when Schiff is running the show, is that this is a story that is still being written, and there are very unpleasant truths that will eventually see the light of day (for example, when NSA John Bolton writes his book, or when Lev Parnas goes on trial, or when other folks no longer enjoy the protection of executive privilege/the promise of a pardon). The Representative has raised a question that surely must be keeping some GOP senators up at night: Do you really want to be on the wrong side of this, once the full truth is known?

    In part, this is a reelection question. For example, John Bolton's book is coming out before the election (likely October), and so whatever he has to say will be said before people cast their ballots on Nov. 3, even if he's never called to testify. Does a Susan Collins or a Cory Gardner (R-CO) really want to play along with protecting Trump, only to have bombshell evidence of his bad behavior become public just weeks before the election? That could, and probably would, make them look like accomplices. And not everyone would have to feel that way, just a small percentage who might otherwise vote for the senators.

    At the same time, this is also a legacy question. When their careers are said and done, most of the senators hope that they will be remembered fondly by history. Undoubtedly, many of them walk through the national statuary collection in the Capitol each day, and wonder what it would look like if they replaced, say, Hannibal Hamlin/William King (Maine), or Florence R. Sabin/John L. Swigert (Colorado). Even those senators who support Trump now surely know that his reputation will not be good, long-term. Do they really want to go down as a hatchet man or woman for the modern-day James Buchanan? Or Richard Nixon, the sequel?

So, that's the prosecution's strategy. Of course, the key short-term question remains: will witnesses be heard? The Democrats would still like this to happen, as it will advance what they're trying to do with impeachment, and it's the only possible chance (though still slight) that Trump is convicted. That said, the Democrats don't need to hear from witnesses, and they remained steadfast that there will be no Hunter-Biden-for-John-Bolton horse trading. In part, because allowing the President's defense team to use Hunter Biden to stage a dog and pony show undermines the integrity of the process, and creates the appearance of impropriety when the evidence does not support that. Also, in part, because no matter what happens with Bolton, he's going to harm the Republicans. Either he does it now, or he does it later with his book (and, as noted, at a time that is more problematic in terms of the election calendar). What this all means, somewhat poetically, is that the Republicans have proposed a quid pro quo, and the Democrats turned it down as inappropriate and self-serving.

At the moment, a consensus is emerging that the question of witnesses will come down to one key senator, and that senator is...Lamar Alexander (R-TN). He's certainly no guarantee to go rogue, since he's been a loyal Republican and an ally of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for many years. On the other hand he's an institutionalist, is not a Trump Republican, and he's retiring this year. That means his career is not on the line here, and that he's thinking particularly hard about legacy. He is also sitting in the seat formerly occupied by senator Howard Baker of Tennessee who was the ranking member of the Watergate Committee and who conducted himself with honor and integrity during the investigation. When push came to shove, he put country above party. Baker famously said: "What did the president know and when did he know it?" Alexander knows all of this very well. And in case you're wondering, Tennessee is currently represented in the National Statuary Hall by John Sevier and Andrew Jackson. Two fellows who owned many slaves, and killed many Native Americans, for what it's worth. If Alexander does vote against Trump, it will give cover to other, more vulnerable senators to join him.

We will not know if a rebellion comes to pass or not for about a week, of course. For now, however, the Senate GOP caucus remains in lockstep with the President. They have been all over television and social media attacking the Democrats' case, confidently predicting a quick acquittal, and otherwise playing the exact role Trump would have them play. Some members have been particularly...enthusiastic. For example, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) went on Twitter and laid into Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, one of the key witnesses against the President during the House hearings. There was a time when a Republican would never have dared to publicly criticize a decorated military officer, but it would appear that Trump's slurring of John McCain during the campaign has put an end to that. Blackburn claimed (falsely) that Vindman leaked information about the President's phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky, and that Vindman was "vindictive" and is unpatriotic.

Fox News is doing its part, too. The other major cable news outlets stayed with impeachment in prime time yesterday, but Fox switched over to its usual programming. So, instead of hearing Democrats making the case that Trump is guilty, Fox viewers got to hear Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham railing about how he's innocent, and how this is all a sham. Hannity, for example, congratulated himself for relieving viewers from "the insanity that has gone on all day."

Today the Democrats will conclude the presentation of their case. They have 7 hours, 53 minutes left, and undoubtedly they will use every second of it. The defense will begin on Saturday, though there is talk of them presenting their main arguments in a brief session, and then an adjournment so the senators can go home for the weekend. That decision will be made at the end of the day today, of course. (Z)

Next Week, Trump Will Try to Change the Narrative...

Generally speaking, Donald Trump doesn't have much use for the Democrats who preceded him in the Oval Office. Or the Republicans, for that matter. However, he and his team have been studying the Bill Clinton impeachment for ideas about how to respond. And they have decided, as Clinton did, to make a big point of governing actively, and looking presidential.

Consistent with that, the administration has at least two major things on the calendar for next week. First, he is expected to release his peace plan for the Middle East, in anticipation of a visit by current Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and aspiring PM Benny Gantz. Not too much is known about the plan, but given that brilliant presidents working with staffs laden with expertise have spent much time and sweat on this question for literally decades, and come up empty, it is rather unlikely that the President's plan will be anything substantive or meaningful. Further, given that Trump has already admitted that the Palestinians "will act negatively at first," there's very good reason to expect that this will just be red meat for the base, and nothing more.

The other upcoming item on the agenda is the presidential signing of the US-Mexico-Canada trade deal (aka NAFTA v2.0). This will just be for show, at least for now, as the Canadians haven't actually aproved the deal yet. Beyond that, anyone who has looked at the pact knows it advances Democratic priorities more than Republican ones. Still, it's going to make for an excellent photo op, which Trump can use against the backdrop of the impeachment, so this is a pretty shrewd move. It would not be a surprise for at least one other big-ticket item to find its way onto the Presidential docket by this time next week. (Z)

...This Week, on the Other Hand

While the impeachment trial creates a need for the Trump administration to manufacture some positive news, it also creates an opportunity—as we've noted before—to sneak some negative stuff in under the radar. The latest candidate for this "honor," it would appear, was his admission this week that he's open to cutting entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, so as to fix some of the gaping holes in the federal budget.

This moment was, in the end, inevitable. At best, the massive tax cut granted by the GOP-controlled Congress, mostly to corporations and wealthy people, was based on fanciful projections of the economic growth it would trigger. George H.W. Bush might have called it voodoo economics. Sooner or later, reality was going to intrude. At worst, this has been the plan all along for folks like Mitch McConnell, and Trump was either a willing accomplice or a useful stooge.

For many decades, these entitlement programs, particularly Social Security, were the third rail of American politics—untouchable by any and all politicians. In theory, they remain so, as there is no government program more popular than Social Security. However, by sneaking in a trial balloon now, Trump is presumably trying to start moving the Overton window, so that discussion of cutting these programs becomes at least possible. At that point, if the Senate remains under GOP control, and if the House flips back, you never know.

But the Republicans should be careful. Very careful. There are probably Democratic ad agencies already working on ads with the message: "Not only do the Republicans want to take away your health insurance, but they also want to gut Social Security." If the ads say "Republicans" rather than "Trump" they could hurt the GOP up and down the line. (Z)

Who Are the Vulnerable GOP Senators?

Speaking of the Senate, it is definitely in play this cycle. That is not only good news for the Democrats in a tactical sense, but if the Party's supporters believe it's true, it also means that they will donate, and volunteer time, and make certain to get to the polling place on Election Day.

Normally, when we examine this particular question (particularly now, when challengers' identities are not known, and polling is limited), we turn to the excellent, and nonpartisan Cook Political Report, which breaks the in-play races into "likely Democratic," "leans Democratic," "toss-up," "leans Republican," and "likely Republican." However, Sabato's Crystal Ball and Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales do the same thing, and are also nonpartisan, and also know what they're doing. So, here's a breakdown of how all three have it:


  • Democratic Held, Likely Democratic: MN (Smith), NM (Open)
  • Democratic Held, Leans Democratic: MI (Peters)
  • Democratic Held, Toss-Up: AL (Jones)
  • Republican Held, Toss-Up: AZ (McSally), CO (Gardner), ME (Collins)
  • Republican Held, Leans Republican: KS (Open), NC (Tillis)
  • Republican Held, Likely Republican: GA (Perdue), GA (Loeffler), IA (Ernst), KY (McConnell), MS (Hyde-Smith)


  • Democratic Held, Likely Democratic: NM (Open), MN (Smith), NH (Shaheen)
  • Democratic Held, Leans Democratic: MI (Peters)
  • Republican Held, Toss-Up: AZ (McSally), CO (Gardner), NC (Tillis)
  • Democratic Held, Leans Republican: AL (Jones)
  • Republican Held, Leans Republican: GA (Open), GA (Loeffler), IA (Ernst), ME (Collins)
  • Republican Held, Likely Republican: MT (Daines), KS (Open), TX (Cornyn), KY (McConnell)


  • Democratic Held, Likely Democratic: NH (Shaheen)
  • Democratic Held, Leans Democratic: MI (Peters)
  • Republican Held, Toss-Up: AZ (McSally), CO (Gardner), NC (Tillis)
  • Democratic Held, Leans Republican: AL (Jones)
  • Republican Held, Leans Republican: ME (Collins), IA (Ernst), KS (Open)
  • Republican Held, Likely Republican: GA (Perdue), GA (Loeffler), TX (Cornyn)

The three analysts, among them, have as many as 18 different seats in play. They disagree on exactly which seats, and how "in play" some of them are, but in essence they have one vulnerable Democrat for every three vulnerable Republicans. It's true that the most vulnerable person of all is a Democrat (Doug Jones), but the next five or so are all Republicans. As a reminder, the Democrats need to gain a net total of three seats and the White House, or else four seats. Clearly, at the moment, that is well within the realm of possibility. And, of course, the Senate races are not entirely independent of one another. In a world where, say, Joni Ernst falls, then it is likely that most or all of Thom Tillis, Cory Gardner, and Martha McSally also fall. Given how much power the Senate Majority Leader wields, this might be an even more important story to watch than the presidential race. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan23 Democrats Begin to Lay out Their Case
Jan23 Democrats Nix Witness Trade
Jan23 Poll: Slight Majority Wants to See Trump Removed from Office
Jan23 Poll: Sanders Moves into the Lead Nationally
Jan23 Clinton Walks Back Comment about Sanders
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Jan23 Time to End Newspaper Endorsements?
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Jan22 Under the Radar, Part I: A New Travel Ban
Jan22 Under the Radar, Part II: Andrew Peek
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Jan21 McConnell Finally Reveals Impeachment Rules
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Jan21 ...Which Leaves No Room for a "NeverTrump" Challenger
Jan21 And Then There's Trump's Popularity with Black Voters
Jan21 Biden Doing Well in Iowa
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Jan20 Battle over Impeachment Trial Witnesses Heats Up
Jan20 Trump Has His Defense Team
Jan20 Klobuchar and Yang Supporters May Be Kingmakers in Iowa
Jan20 White College-Educated Democrats Can't Make Up Their Minds
Jan20 New York Times Makes Double Endorsement
Jan20 Jayapal Endorses Sanders
Jan20 Supreme Court Meets the Electoral College
Jan19 Sunday Mailbag
Jan18 Saturday Q&A
Jan17 Impeachment Day 1 Goes Badly for Trump
Jan17 Ukraine Launches Investigation
Jan17 It Turns Out that There Were Casualties from Iranian Attack, After All
Jan17 Iowa Could Have Many Winners
Jan17 What Bloomberg's Path Looks Like
Jan17 Collins' Approval Rating Sinks Below McConnell's
Jan17 Cheney Won't Run for Senate
Jan16 House Votes to Send the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate
Jan16 Pelosi Names Seven Managers
Jan16 Senators Have Been Instructed to Pay Attention to the Trial
Jan16 The Voters Want to Hear from Bolton
Jan16 Democrats Will Send New Documents over to the Senate
Jan16 Trump Signs a Trade Deal
Jan16 More Details on Warren-Sanders Spat
Jan16 Congress Will Vote on Terminating the Border Emergency
Jan16 Voting Wars Continue in Wisconsin
Jan16 Virginia Passes the Equal Rights Amendment
Jan15 Democrats Disjoin in Des Moines
Jan15 Onward and Upward
Jan15 Senate Is Likely to Pass War Powers Resolution
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