Monday, September 23, 2019

Last Call For Spies Like Us, Con't

As TPM's Josh Marshall points out using the White House's own public transcripts from their September 1 meeting in Warsaw, Poland for the 80th anniversary of the start of WW II, Vice President Mike Pence was clearly involved in the efforts to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into coming up with something damaging on Joe Biden, and Pence suggested US military aid to Ukraine was at stake if Zelensky didn't deliver.

Here’s the text of the question and answer from the official White House transcript, with my emphasis added.

Q: Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President. I wanted to ask you about your meeting yesterday with the Ukrainian President and for an update on Ukrainian security aid money.  
Specifically, number one, did you discuss Joe Biden at all during that meeting yesterday with the Ukrainian President? And number two, can you assure Ukraine that the hold-up of that money has absolutely nothing to do with efforts, including by Rudy Giuliani, to try to dig up dirt on the Biden family?  
VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well, on the first question, the answer is no. But we — with President Zelensky yesterday, we discussed — we discussed America’s support for Ukraine and the upcoming decision the President will make on the latest tranche of financial support in great detail.  
The President asked me to meet with President Zelensky and to talk about the progress that he’s making on a broad range of areas. And we did that.  
We, as I said yesterday, especially since Russian aggression — the illegal occupation of Crimea and Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine — the United States has stood strong with Ukraine and we will continue to stand strong with Ukraine for its sovereignty and territorial integrity.  
But as President Trump had me make clear, we have great concerns about issues of corruption. And, fortunately, President Zelensky was elected decisively on an anti-corruption message. And he and I discussed yesterday that as he’s assembled his cabinet, and as his parliament has convened, that even in the early days, he informed me that there have been more than 250 bills filed for — that address the issue of public corruption and really restoring integrity to the public process.  
I mean, to invest additional taxpayer in Ukraine, the President wants to be assured that those resources are truly making their way to the kind of investments that will contribute to security and stability in Ukraine. And that’s an expectation the American people have and the President has expressed very clearly.  
We also talked in some detail about what other European nations are doing for Ukraine. The simple fact is that the United States has carried the load on most of the security investments in Ukraine. And we have been proud to do that, but we believe it’s time for our European partners to step forward and make additional investments to stand with the people of Ukraine as they assert their territorial integrity and sovereignty.  
President Zelensky and I talked in great detail about ongoing discussions about resolving the ongoing violence and occupation of Ukraine. And those were the issues that we covered.  
But I assured him that the people of the United States stand with Ukraine for their sovereignty and territorial integrity. But I called on him to work with us to engage our European partners to participate at a greater level in Ukraine, and also told him that I would carry back to President Trump the progress that he and his administration in Ukraine are making on dealing with corruption in their country.

Corruption is a longstanding issue in Ukraine. Rooting out that corruption has been a central focus of US policy in the country for decades. That is why the United States and the European Union were so focused on removing that prosecutor back in 2015. But in the context of what we know was happening and especially the call we know took place a month earlier, these repeated references to progress on corruption and holding up military aid until Zelensky acted could scarcely be more clear.

Yep.  If it's impeachable for Trump, and Pence was in on it, well...

The Rapidly Receding Red Rout

Washington Post reporter Rachael Bade notes that out of the 241 House Republicans who took office along with Donald Trump in January 2017, more than a third of them are gone or will be gone by the end of next year.  Michigan's Paul Mitchell is the most recent departure this month, announcing his retirement a few weeks ago.

Mitchell is among a growing list of House Republicans — 18 to date — who have announced plans to resign, retire or run for another office, part of a snowballing exodus that many Republicans fear is imperiling their chances of regaining control of the House in the 2020 elections.

And the problem for the GOP is bigger than retirements. Since Trump’s inauguration, a Washington Post analysis shows, nearly 40 percent of the 241 Republicans who were in office in January 2017 are gone or leaving because of election losses, retirements including former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), and some, such as Mitchell, who are simply quitting in disgust.

The vast turnover is a reminder of just how much Trump has remade the GOP — and of the purge of those who dare to oppose him. Former congressman Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) lost his June 2018 primary after challenging Trump; he’s now a Republican presidential candidate. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.), the only Republican to accuse Trump of impeachable acts, quit the GOP in July citing the “partisan death spiral.” His political future is uncertain.

Mitchell, who hails from a Republican-leaning district that Trump won easily in 2016, simply decided he had enough. He has a 9-year-old son with a learning disability, and remaining in a highly polarized Washington just wasn’t worth the trade-off, he said.

“Did any member of this conference expect that their job would start out every morning trying to go through the list of what’s happening in tweets of the day?” Mitchell asked, referring to Trump’s Twitter habits. “We’re not moving forward right now. We are simply thrashing around.”

The retirement numbers are particularly staggering. All told, 41 House Republicans have left national politics or announced they won’t seek reelection in the nearly three years since Trump took office. That dwarfs the 25 Democrats who retired in the first four years of former president Barack Obama’s tenure — and Republicans privately predict this is only the beginning.
Most of the departing Republicans publicly cite family as the reason for leaving. But behind the scenes, Republicans say the trend highlights a greater pessimism about the direction of the party under Trump — and their ability to win back the House next year. 
The president has doubled down on an all-base strategy for his reelection campaign, making some Republicans ask whether Trump has put his own political future ahead of the long-term viability of the party of Abraham Lincoln.

“If the party doesn’t start looking like America, there will not be a party in America,” said Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.), the only black House Republican, who announced his retirement in August.

That's staggering.  We're talking more than 90 of those same 241 Republicans retired in the last 32 months, lost in 2018, or are retiring before 2021.

More retirements are coming, I guarantee that.  They're not getting the House back anytime soon.  The Senate remains a much different story, but I expect after 2020 redistricting in favor of Democrats at the state level, you're going to see a very solid House Democratic majority for some time.

Well, unless the Dems find a way to blow it.

Doing "Something" About Trump

Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty suggests that while the impeachment debate rages on, the Trump/Ukraine perfidy is worth an unprecedented and historic House censure resolution by Democrats.

This argument will continue, with new fuel being added by the administration’s refusal to turn over a whistleblower’s complaint regarding the Trump-Zelensky conversation. It is hard to see how it could possibly be resolved before we are well into the 2020 campaign season. But there is something the House could do right now, an idea that I have raised before: censure the president. 
The procedure for doing so is pretty straightforward, as spelled out in a recent report by the Congressional Research Service
Should a House committee report a non-Member censure resolution, the full House may consider it by unanimous consent, under the Suspension of the Rules procedure, or under the terms of a special rule reported by the Committee on Rules and adopted by the House. 17 If widespread support exists for the censure resolution, unanimous consent or the Suspension of the Rules procedure may be used. Otherwise, the resolution could be brought to the floor under a special rule reported by the Committee on Rules. All three of these parliamentary mechanisms require, at a minimum, the support of the majority party leadership in order to be entertained. 
In other words, a censure resolution could be brought to the House floor with support from Democrats alone, and it would not require any action on the part of the Senate. 
This would not sate the appetite of the pro-impeachment forces, or end the debate over whether that step is warranted. But it could be done quickly, with the evidence at hand, and would have the benefit of forcing Republican members to go on record stating whether they do or do not find this behavior on the part of the president acceptable. While many would argue that censure is a symbolic gesture, it is a disgrace that Trump would share with only one other president in American history — his purported idol, Andrew Jackson. Jackson was censured by the Senate in 1834 as the result of a little-remembered dispute over the Second Bank of the United States; it was expunged a few years later when his pro-Jackson Democrats gained a majority in the chamber, which showed that they regarded a censure as more than a slap on the wrist. 
None of this would end the argument over impeachment, but it would prove to the American people that at least part of their government sets a higher standard of behavior than our current president does. It also, finally, would force Republicans to answer a question that they have been dodging: Is there anything this president does that you will not tolerate?

 Censure of Trump and five bucks will get you a pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks.

Look, at this point Pelosi doesn't have the votes for censure, let alone impeachment. Tumulty admits it won't accomplish anything even if it did happen.  And Trump will simply say -- correctly for once because no Republican would risk getting Amashed over voting for it -- that there's a purely political Democratic "witch hunt" going on against him.

Not even Paul Ryan and John Boehner censured Barack Obama.  Censure resolutions were introduced against Nixon but he resigned, and the censure resolution against Bill Clinton over Monica Lewinsky failed because Newt Gingrich didn't have the votes for it.

House Democrats did vote to condemn Trump over his racist remarks against Reps. Omar, Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, and Pressley earlier this year, but it fell short of official censure.

And like the condemnation vote, censure is not going to fix a damn thing, and Tumulty should know better.  If censure was a real option, it would have been used already for precisely the reasons Tumulty laid out.

But that of course leaves us in the same position we've been in since January: Democrats control the House, and Nancy Pelosi controls House Democrats, but so far the votes aren't anywhere close to being there in order to be able to impeach Trump.

The Ukraine situation may change all that in the near future, however.

With Pelosi unwilling to impeach Trump, Democratic rank-and-file members are frantically looking for something to fortify their investigations. On Friday, Judiciary members pressed Nadler to invoke Congress’s long-dormant inherent contempt authority that would allow Congress to jail or fine people for defying subpoenas.
The power hasn’t been used in more than 100 years. Pelosi, leadership and other House lawyers were dismissive of the idea when investigators first floated it last spring. But Judiciary members are once again trying to force the issue.

“Our side says it's ‘legally questionable,’ ‘it hasn't been used in forever,’ and ‘blah, blah, blah,’ ” said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), a member of the panel, who argues Trump’s legal team frequently has used last-ditch efforts and bogus explanations to block testimony — and the House should do the same. 
“I say do it,” he continued. “Let them argue in court that they take the position that it's legally questionable. We back off of everything! We’ve been very weak.” 
The frustration with the Democratic approach extends to members of Pelosi’s leadership team. 
“We need to develop other tools because our tools are not working,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a Judiciary panel member who is co-chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. “We cannot allow the administration to simply continuously stonewall Congress with no consequences.” 
Lieu is pushing for the use of inherent contempt. 
Even Schiff, who came to Congress in part by defeating a Republican who voted for President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, said on Sunday that relying on the courts may not work for Trump, Ukraine and the undisclosed whistleblower complaint.

“We cannot afford to play rope-a-dope in the court for weeks or months on end,” Schiff said. “We need an answer if there’s a fire burning it needs to be put out, and that's why we're going to have to look at every remedy . . . we're going to have to consider impeachment, as well, as a remedy here.”

Ostensibly the next step in this drama is Thursday, when Acting DNI Joseph Maguire goes before the House Intelligence Committee. This whole mess started because Maguire refused to turn over the transcript of Trump's call and the whistleblower complaint as required by law. Committee chair Rep. Adam Schiff then issued a subpoena for Maguire to do so, and that showdown comes later this week.

If Maguire doesn't comply, Pelosi has hinted that the resulting "grave new chapter of lawlessness" would lead to a "whole new stage of investigation" into the Trump regime.  That gives me some small measure of hope at least, but there's not a reason to believe that Trump won't try to call that bluff between now and Thursday.

And if it is a bluff by Pelosi, well, like I've been saying, if Democrats keep walking down the middle of the road on impeachment, they're going to get hit by the bus in the 2020 elections and it won't be a question any longer, because Trump will be re-elected.


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