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KEEPING THE MAIN THINGS THE MAIN THINGS
For as far as the eye can see, impeachment will be the dominant politico-governmental story in the United States.
Every day, we must ask ourselves what really matters for sure, as opposed to what is interesting, or what might matter eventually.
There are five intertwined questions that matter right now. Let’s review those, then we shall tick through the items that are still on simmer and could end up just being sideshows.
1. Will the White House comply with the House subpoenas?
The timing for when this showdown comes to a head is unclear, but it is coming.
My take: Democrats are skillfully messaging that a failure to comply would be evidence of a cover-up, trying to preempt any White House attempt to claim the invocation of executive privilege would be legitimate.
The administration has three reasons to avoid compliance: it doesn’t want to suggest the investigation is worthy of cooperation; it doesn’t want to hand over incriminating information; and, perhaps most importantly, it wants to slow down the probe. Which leads to the second question that currently matters….
2. Who will win the messaging and substantive battle between Democrats (who want to strike while the iron is hot on impeachment but know they can’t be seen as rushing) and Republicans (who want to drag out the process to make it seem too close to the election to go forward but who know they are on dangerous ground if they are seen as stonewalling)?
The Associated Press sums it up nicely, saying Republicans “are bent on ensuring the current probe is anything but the quick process desired by Democrats, who are wary of its impact on the 2020 presidential campaign.
“It is unclear if Democrats would wade into a lengthy legal fight with the administration over documents and testimony – or if they would just move straight to considering articles of impeachment.”
My take: Rahm Emanuel’s Washington Post op ed teases out the smartest adjustment either side has made since this battle began. Democrats realize that no matter how quickly or slowly they proceed, they need to project that they are in fact-finding mode, not heck-bent on impeachment.
Writes Rahm: “Our posture needs to be about bringing sunlight to a murky reality, not convincing the public that it should support any given outcome.”
Fact finding is the key. The conventional wisdom is right: based on what is now known, the House majority will consider there to be enough evidence to impeach, but the Senate Republicans will not see enough evidence to convict. So what else might be found? That brings us to question #3….
3. What else is out there?
Behind close doors today, former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker is expected to testify. How much will leak out how quickly is unknown, but Volker is widely expected by both parties to be a kickoff witness who on balance strengthens the case against the president.
And this essential reading Washington Post story casting doubt on the completeness and accuracy of the transcript of the July Trump phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart hints at the possibility that there could be a smoking gun hiding in plain sight that would freak out Republicans.
My take: Speaker Pelosi has given Chairman Schiff the resources, leeway, and staff he needs to conduct a serious investigation. Wednesday provided further evidence that Democrats are united in charging ahead on trying to impeach the president. Unity of purpose and message gives the Democrats a huge advantage as they try to build a stronger case against Trump. On the other hand, on the other side of the aisle, the situation is very different…
4. How nervous are DC Republicans about how the White House is handling this raging storm?
This essential reading New York Times story tells the tale:
“At a meeting on Wednesday morning with conservatives and Capitol Hill aides, White House officials were still taking the temperature on the potential political fallout of impeachment, rather than offering any instructions about their path going forward.
“Paul Teller, an aide in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, quizzed the group about whether it thought a long or short impeachment process would play better with the president’s base. Mr. Teller also told the group that he believed Mr. Trump would want to see Mr. McConnell bring impeachment to a vote on the Senate floor, where Mr. Trump would be acquitted, rather than move to simply dismiss the charges.
“Mr. Kushner, who has been overseeing campaign messaging on impeachment, also personally signed off on a new round of campaign ads attacking Mr. Biden and his son Hunter Biden.”
The Wall Street Journal adds this coda:
“A former White House official put it more bluntly, saying the response was ‘a disorganized mess, and it seems that’s what Trump wants.’”
My take: The administration has about a week to get things together. If the chaotic “Donald and Rudy Show” is the sum total of how the White House is fighting back by the time congressional Republicans return from recess, panic will ensue. Republicans will not find this level of disorganization and lack of a structure and message any match for what the Democrats have going on. The weak links will start speaking to reporters about their concerns, first on background and then on the record, and that dynamic will make the president’s position even more perilous. Hill Republicans will worry about the prospect of impeachment most of all because of the impact it will have on GOP candidates up and down the 2020 ballot, which brings us to the final question that matters…
5. Can the president fight back against impeachment while still running an effective campaign for reelection?
Heather Higgins writes in a Wall Street Journal op ed about how the president has issues right before his eyes that could help him appeal to the women, especially in the suburbs, whose votes he will need for reelection.
My take: Polls showing rising support for the prospect of impeachment notwithstanding, we still don’t fully know how all this is playing out in America. And/but as Bill Clinton showed, it takes a world-class political athlete to compartmentalize the two tracks – an effective defense against the opposition’s attempt to remove the incumbent from office and an effective offense on issues that matter most to voters.
Speaker Pelosi did a masterful job Wednesday talking about how House Democrats still want to work with the president on the new NAFTA, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, and infrastructure. As much as Trump needs to fix his impeachment messaging to give his own party confidence, he also has to solve his issues messaging. And the plan for the latter is no more clear right now than the plan for the former.
What matters less right now (but could rise up!), mostly because of the dog-bites-man quality of all this:
The president was angry, profane, and unhinged on Twitter and in answering reporters’ questions, but cool as a cucumber in a New York Post interview.
Trump involved Pence in Ukraine gambit.
Giuliani involved Paul Manafort in Ukraine gambit.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board, Daniel Henninger, Karl Rove, and Rich Lowry all see Democratic overreach on impeachment.
Joe Biden and Pelosi think Trump is scared.
Adam Schiff’s operation had early contact with the whistleblower.
Vladimir Putin said scrutiny over the July phone call showed that Trump’s rivals are using “every excuse” to go after him.
My take: Only time will tell on all of this.
The media’s broad and deep focus on impeachment means that Bernie Sanders going into the hospital and off the campaign trail because of what his team says was blockage of an artery did not get the kind of coverage it would have gotten once upon a time.
My take: The press has been trying to declare Sanders politically dead for a while. His strong third-quarter fundraising is now overwhelmed by this health scare.
We all wish Senator Sanders a speedy recovery.
In the crudest political terms, if Sanders is sidelined, it is yet another good moment for Elizabeth Warren, although Joe Biden will fight like heck for some Sanders’ backers.
Until we see if Bernie can come back at full force, what was effectively a two-person race as the week started is still a two-person race – until and unless someone besides Biden and Warren can emerge after New Hampshire as surprisingly strong and in the hunt.
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