Monday, September 23, 2019


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Pelosi Pivots Towards Something Else

What do Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, centrist first-term House Democrats, James Carville, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mitt Romney, the Wall Street Journal editorial board, and Donald Trump have in common?

They all said things in the last 48 hours that make impeachment of the president more likely than it was before or reflect the fact that impeachment of the president is more likely than it was before.

The signature moment of the weekend on the still-growing Ukrainian controversy was the “Dear Colleague” letter the Speaker sent out late Sunday, saying “Democrats would ask [acting director of national intelligence, Joseph] Maguire to turn over the whistleblower’s ‘full complaint.’ She also said Democrats would request that the whistleblower be allowed to speak directly to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.”

That came after Intelligence Committee topper Schiff’s Sunday morning comments leaning harder into the prospect of impeachment than he ever has before, and Trump’s acknowledgement that he mentioned Joe Biden in his July phone call with the Ukrainian president.

“Pelosi, according to people close to her, realizes Trump’s Ukraine request — and particularly the administration’s refusal to share a whistleblower complaint about those communications with Congress — could intensify the House fight with the White House. She and Schiff were in touch throughout the weekend, syncing up strategies and talking points, according to an official familiar with the conversations.” (Washington Post)

New York Times: “Several first-term lawmakers who had opposed impeachment conferred privately over the weekend to discuss announcing support for an inquiry, potentially jointly, after a hearing scheduled for Thursday with the acting national intelligence director, according to Democratic officials familiar with the conversations.”

“James Carville, the longtime Democratic strategist, said he had opposed impeachment, but now thinks the House should move ‘quick and clean’ after obtaining a transcript of Mr. Trump’s phone call. ‘Let the Senate Republicans stew,’ he said.”

Then there are these bookend tweets:

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Saturday: “At this point, the bigger national scandal isn’t the president’s lawbreaking behavior — it is the Democratic Party’s refusal to impeach him for it.”

Mitt Romney, Sunday: “If the President asked or pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme. Critical for the facts to come out.”

Like the Romney tweet, the Wall Street Journal’s lead editorial should worry the White House. It goes out of its way to defend the president by focusing on Biden’s actions and what it casts as past Democratic overreaches, but it also says this:

“Mr. Trump’s request showed bad judgment. He was trying to draw a foreign leader into the middle of American presidential politics, which can only lead to political trouble.

“The request to Mr. Zelensky is worse if it came with a threat to cut off U.S. military aid. Mr. Trump and others say there was no quid pro quo request. But we know the Trump Administration delayed U.S. aid to Ukraine in early July for unexplained reasons. The U.S. released the aid later after bipartisan criticism of the delay. Mr. Zelensky surely understood the potential risk of not complying with Mr. Trump’s request even if Mr. Trump wasn’t explicit.”

My take: While we wait to see if any more Republican senators flip on the president over all this, the pressure on Pelosi is now higher than it has ever been. And that pressure is not just about whether to launch a full-fledged impeachment inquiry, but how this conflict over separation of powers and the underlying actions of the president will impact her willingness to cooperate with the administration on other fronts.

For Democrats, the current situation is so grave that some no longer think it is feasible that Pelosi can move forward on the new North American trade deal, work with Trump on gun safety or prescription drugs, or do anything else bipartisan. 

Instead, the Speaker might be forced into going down the path that she has doggedly avoided so far: turn the entire national message coming from Capitol Hill in advance of the presidential election into one about Trump’s lawlessness and impeachment.

Team Trump’s attempts to get the press and public to focus on Joe and Hunter Biden will work up until a point, but nothing on that front can compete with (a) the search for the whistleblower’s identity; (b) House Democrats’ efforts to access the whistleblower and her or his charges; (c) the search for the transcript and complete facts of the president’s pressuring phone call; (d) Thursday’s expected Capitol Hill turn by Maguire; (e) the search for a full accounting of Rudy Giuliani’s actions.

Hanging in the balance: no less than the policy and political agendas of both political parties for the remainder of 2019 and all of 2020.

There are a lot of characters in this drama, but the matchup that matters most is Trump vs. Pelosi, not Trump vs. Biden.

****

Trump at the U.N.

AP: “There are challenges with Iran, North Korea, the Afghan Taliban, Israel and the Palestinians — not to mention a number of trade pacts. Some are inching forward. Some have stalled.”

The New York Post neatly summarizes the president’s week:

“[He] will hold a series of bilateral meetings with world leaders, including Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan, President Andrzej Duda of Poland, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea.”

“On Tuesday morning, Trump will deliver his UN speech before the General Assembly — his first major foreign address since the departure of hawkish National Security Adviser John Bolton.

“Themes of Trump’s message will include upholding the sovereignty and independence of UN countries, protecting religious freedoms and ‘underscore[ing] that America is a positive alternative to authoritarianism,’ according to a senior administration official.

“After his speech Tuesday, Trump will meet Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, and President Barham Salih of Iraq.

“The spotlight will be on Trump’s Wednesday bilateral meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky amid reports that Trump previously pressured Zelensky to look into former Vice President Joe Biden’s son’s business dealings there.

“Trump will also meet Wednesday with Western Hemisphere leaders about Venezuela, as well as Prime Minister Shinzō Abe of Japan and President of El Salvador Nayib Bukele.

“Trump will conclude his UN trip with a press conference Wednesday and will return to Washington the next day.”

Per the Wall Street Journal, which is skeptical that Trump can get support for decisive action against Iran this week at the U.N.:

“One key figure at this week’s U.N. gathering will be President Emmanuel Macron of France, who has been trying to keep the slim prospects for diplomacy alive.

“Mr. Macron plans to meet with Mr. Rouhani; and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Mr. Pompeo will attend a meeting with foreign ministers from Arab Gulf states on Tuesday in New York.”

My take: There will be endless bilateral photo ops, presidential tweets, faints, fakes, false starts, and freelancing. Plenty of U.N. experts and Trump administration watchers believe the week will amount to a lot of sound and fury signifying very little.  Bet on that.

****

In other news:

Essential reading: This New York Times op ed by Professor David Hopkins, arguing that not all suburbs are created equal, with the areas around smaller cities more likely to be Trump Country, as compared to the suburbs of bigger metroplexes.

My take: These areas are one of several where there are pockets of votes for Team Trump to harvest that they didn’t get in 2016.  It is one of many reasons that Democrats should not underestimate the incumbent’s chances for reelection.

****

Bernie Sanders’ Elizabeth Warren problem, as summed up by the Washington Post.

My take: Sanders faces staff discord, sagging poll numbers, and no obvious way to slow the momentum of his friend Elizabeth Warren.  It is a lot easier to define what is going wrong with his campaign than it is to map a comeback.  Warren has expanded her electoral support demographically a bit, Sanders not at all. The Vermonter must still aspire to win Iowa and New Hampshire, but a more realistic goal at this point might be to make it to Super Tuesday in the hunt, with a lot of money in the bank.

****
Top sports story: QB Jones leads Giants’ rally vs. Bucs in 1st start
ESPN

Top business story: Pressure Mounts on WeWork CEO Adam Neumann as Board Weighs Coup
Bloomberg

Top entertainment story: Amazon’s ‘Fleabag’ and HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ win top honors at the 71st Emmy Awards show
CNBC

****

Correction: In Sunday’s edition, I was so thrilled to be spelling Jef Pollock’s first name correctly that I misspelled his last name. I regret the error.


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