Sunday, July 28, 2019

BTRTN: Point/Counterpoint: Debating the Dems' Next Steps Following the Mueller Debacle

Sure, the Mueller testimony was a debacle, but where to go from here?  Tom and Steve take the exact same set of facts and come to diametrically opposite conclusions, mirroring the conflict in the Democratic Party at large. Read the best argument for each point of view, side by side, right here:

Profiles in Discourage:  Pelosi Chooses Expedience over Principle, and We Will Pay

The Democrats need to stop putting their fingers in the wind and trying to game out scenarios that may or may not unfold. Beware, Nancy, of the law of unintended consequences. Your failure to move forward with impeachment may be exactly what gets Trump re-elected. Steve thinks Pelosi should stop doing the expedient thing, and start doing the right thing. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.
It was sad to watch the Mueller testimony, for so many reasons.
Sad to watch a man who is clearly no longer as razor sharp as he used to be.
Sad to watch a great man fail to rise to the occasion, a man who allowed his own personal discomfort with testifying to get in the way of the importance of what he was testifying about.
Sad to watch a man who – for all his intellect and brilliance – simply did not understand how incredibly important it would have been for him to simply read the words in his own report out loud.
Sad that he did not understand that it appeared that he was unwilling to stand by the words he supposedly wrote.
Sad to watch a man who did not understand that in the world of communication, the issue is never what you say. The only thing that matters is what people hear.
Sad to realize that Mueller, for all his patriotism, felt that it was more important to follow department regulations and the will of his bosses strictly by the book, failing to see that his higher duty was to use his position to best serve the Constitution of the United States and its citizens.
Sad that a bunch of Republican cowards thought that their most important job was to smear the reputation and sully the motives of a great American patriot.
Sad that nobody in Congress understood that the Intelligence Committee should have gone first, and then Judiciary. That way, the focus would have been on the ongoing threat of Russian interference in our elections. This would have provided appropriate context for the discussion to the Trump campaign’s involvement with Russian, and Trump’s effort to obstruct justice.
Sad that almost everyone in the United States who tuned in simply listened for the aspects of the testimony that reinforced their ingoing bias.
But what was most sad was listening to how Democrats reacted afterward.
Their was an immediate chorus, with many chanting words to the effect of this in unison: “This just shows how important it is to enforce our subpoena of Don McGahn, so America will hear in his own words how the President obstructed justice!!”
Read: Mueller failed to turn the tide on the impeachment question, so now our only hope is getting Don McGahn to testify.
Deus ex McGahn.  Mueller failed to save us… but McGahn will save us! McGahn will finally make Americans see that Trump should be impeached!
Most sad is when Democrats fail to take the action ordained in the Constitution as the proper remedy for Presidential high crimes and misdemeanors.
Sorry, Democrats. Stop blaming Mueller. Stop thinking McGahn will have any impact.
You, Democrats, may have already blown this show with your timidity, your fear, and your unwillingness to act on principle.
As this slow-motion train wreck unfolds, we are getting head-on impact lesson in why it is so critically important to act on principle rather than political calculation.
Nancy Pelosi keeps saying that the Democrats cannot act on impeachment until they have an unimpeachable case. That they should not move forward until they are certain that the American people will support it. In so doing, Nancy Pelosi is essentially admitting to leading by polling. She is telling people that she is leading by putting her finger up in the air to see which way the winds are blowing, abdicating the moral imperatives that leadership demand.
On a very practical level, she seems to have missed a critical point: her own equivocation may be one of the biggest reasons Americans are dubious.
If she is not convinced he should be impeached yet, why should anyone else be?
If she was not compelled to act by Mueller’s report, why should anyone be?
If she felt it was vital to hear from Mueller in person, and now no opinions are changed, doesn’t that mean we should give it up?
If she keeps saying, “we have to hear one more witness testify under oath,” doesn’t that mean that all the prior evidence isn’t enough?
Wake up, folks. Nancy Pelosi has been kicking McGahn down the road for months, sandbagging efforts to impeach Trump with a leaden pocket veto.
Somehow, in all this, she is failing to understand just how much damage she has done to the Democrats opportunity to win the White House in 2020.
Every time she raised the bar on what it takes to warrant impeachment, she was serving Donald Trump better than any of Trump’s own sycophants. By shrinking from impeachment, she has strengthened Donald Trump’s hand far, far more than she would have done by proceeding.
I can hear it now, in that bellicose, pompous, manipulative, deceitful posturing of the President of the United States:
“The Dems and their two year witch hunt turned up nothing! If they thought it had turned up anything, they would have voted to impeach. But they didn’t. It was all a hoax and a witch hunt, and it turned up nothing! Don’t ask me. Don’t ask Republicans. Ask the Democrats – they are the ones who concluded that there was no collusion and no obstruction.”
I know the other point of view. “Why impeach when you will never get a conviction in the Senate? Why force Congresspersons in swing districts to make a controversial vote and risk the House majority?”
Why?
The first reason Nancy Pelosi should have been leading the charge on  impeachment is because she swore and oath to protect the Constitution of the United States of America.
When a President commits high crimes and misdemeanors – as the Mueller report truly did establish – it’s Congress’s duty to act. To shrink from that duty is to fail in that oath.
So many, many times we have watched people opt for the expedient, short-term gimmick instead of taking the hard road of standing firm on a matter of principle. The  truth is that short-term, expedient answers rarely produce a proud outcome.
John F. Kennedy wrote a book called “Profiles in Courage.” It was a paean to those who acted on principle rather than political expediency. It was a tribute to those who refused to yield to the enormous pressure to conform to the short-term view. It was a book about doing the right thing.
John F. Kennedy understood leadership, and he knew that great leaders do not hold their fingers in the air to see how the wind is blowing.
Great leaders have a powerful internal gyroscope that empowers them mightily with the force of personal conviction. They do not wait to be given permission by the blessing of polls. They act on their principles about what they believe is the right thing to do.
Not buying the argument of acting on principle? How about if we examine our “expedient” approach and realize how flawed it really is.
Nancy Pelosi believes that articles impeachment passed in the House followed by a failure to acquit in the Senate will help Trump by “exonerating” him.  Yet, in that scenario, it is Senate Republicans “exonerate” Trump. But by failing to pass articles of impeachment in the House, it is the Democrats who are exonerating Trump. It is the Democrats who are deciding that there are no grounds for removing Trump from office. It is the Democrats who appear weak, timid, and intimidated by Trump.  It is the Democrats who enable Trump to declare victory, exoneration, and innocence.
A strong argument can be made that having the black mark of impeachment hanging over Trump between now and election day – with parades of witnesses who are finally forcefully compelled to testify precisely because it is the legal equivalent of a Grand Jury  – would do far more damage to Trump than watching White House staff blow off House subpoenas, running out the  clock until election day.
How about this, Nancy? Put your foot on the pace of the proceedings, so that the House impeachment inquiry leads to a formal vote to impeach in October, leaving no time for a Senate trial before election day. That way Trump has the stain of impeachment, but no liberating exoneration from the Senate. Please tell me I am not the only one who has thought of that idea.
Perhaps at this point, it is true that Democrats should give up on impeachment and focus totally on winning the election.
But the reason to reach this conclusion is not because it is good strategy. It is because they have utterly failed to live up to their responsibility to act in a timely manner on the mountain of evidence collected in the Mueller report.  When William Barr twisted its findings, the Democrats did not protest. They waited and waited, hoping Robert Mueller would make it easier for them. Now that Mueller has turned out to be not up to the task, the Democrats are running after Don McGahn. The more they wait to act, the more Americans assume that they don’t have a case. Or that they don’t have the guts.
The endgame in this farce will not likely be a triumph of political savvy and strategy. It will more likely be a tragedy borne of a failure to act on principle.
At best, Nancy Pelosi is a profile in being too clever by half, believing that her refusal to impeach Donald Trump is actually the most effective way to reach a desired end.
More likely, she is what John F. Kennedy might call a profile in discourage, failing to lead her caucus to do the right thing for the right reason.


Time To Bury the Impeachment Fantasy
With Mueller out of the way, Tom thinks we need to stick with the Pelosi plan.

It would have been nice.  Robert Mueller strides into the hearings, settles in behind the microphone and, displaying a startlingly powerful baritone and an encyclopedic grasp of his material, weaves a spellbinding saga of criminal behavior.  The facts were widely known, but somehow, simply hearing this paragon of virtue patiently explaining them, the obstructions became vivid, real and raw.  With Mueller summoning every ounce of the moral rectitude he had acquired in his heroic career to lay Trump’s crimes bare, you could feel the tsunami of public opinion changing across America.  Mueller’s stentorian performance moved not just moderate Democrats into the impeachment camp, but the rest of the nation as well.  By the time the sun set, the real question was whether the Democrats would file for impeachment the next day, or instead would a trio of GOP wise men (say, McConnell, Romney and Graham?) pay a visit to the orange man in the White House to tell him the jig was up, to get ready for the helicopter on the South Lawn to whisk you away to Mar-A-Lago, forever.
Ah yes, the fantasy.  It was always a fantasy.  Robert Mueller was no more going to pull that off than Neil Armstrong himself was going to walk on the moon on July 20, 2019.
And now it’s time to move on.
It’s time for the Democrats to bury the impeachment fantasy, follow the Pelosi script and get on with 2020.  Impeachment is not the end game:  getting rid of Donald Trump as quickly as possible is the end game.  And the best way – the fastest way, the surest way, the least risky way – is to vote him out in 2020.
Through that lens, Robert Mueller did us a favor.  He was sooooo bad.  Sure, he made it clear that he had not cleared Trump of obstruction of justice.  Yes, he agreed that Trump committed the acts that comprise the case for obstruction.  He testified that he, Mueller, had never applied for the FBI post, calling out Trump in yet another lie.  And he concluded the Russians did indeed interfere with the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf, and they continue to plot interference even as Mueller was testifying, and would again in 2020:  Trump had ushered in “the “new normal” as he billed it, with heavy regret.
But wow, that delivery!  It was the worst public performance ever on Capitol Hill, at least the worst that had drawn a mass audience.  It was utterly dreadful.  Atticus Finch?  I don’t think so.
Folks, get over it.  Even if Mueller had performed superbly, every GOP Senator would still vote down impeachment.  There was no new news to be had, no bombshell revelation in the works, nothing that truly could ever have tipped the scales, and certainly not with by-the-book, the-report-is-my-testimony Bob Mueller at the stand.  The smoking gun here is a tape of a phone call from Putin to Trump, horse-trading the 2016 election for all sorts of policy goodies, with a Trump Tower penthouse in Moscow thrown in.  Who knows if a call like that happened, or a deal of that sort negotiated?  But there is no tape.  And no tape, no evidence, no smoking gun.  And what we have now has convinced exactly one GOP member of Congress to abandon Trump -- and he (Representative Justin Amish) quickly became an Independent.
We have to move on.  Stop the fantasy now.  Don’t make the Don McGahn Testimony the next Great Impeachment Hope.  We know what Don McGahn will say when he’s finally in front of the House Judiciary Committee.  “Yes. Trump did ask me to fire Mueller.  I said no.  Then, a few days later, he asked me to lie about him asking me to fire Mueller.  I said no.”   I can practically hear the GOP Senators yawning right now. 
I’m with her.  And I mean Nancy Pelosi.  Smartest pure politician of our times.  SHE knows impeachment is a loser.  She’s wonderful to watch, as she gives just enough space to Jerry Nadler and the righteous gang to make it seem like, by golly, if we can get these people to testify and they produce, I sure will give the green light to impeachment!  You bet!
Knowing full well that it will never happen.  Not with -- hmm, let me check – Donald Trump standing tall with a 90% approval rating among Republicans (per Gallup, July, 2019).  And if Trump survives a Senate trial – which of course he will, absent that Putin phone call tape – then not only will the impeachment folly give Trump a boost in his 2020 White House bid (“Yet again, I am vindicated, this time by the Senate, and it wasn’t even close.  No collusion!  No obstruction!”), but the Dems also risk losing the House.
Wait, what….did you say lose the House???  Yes, that is exactly what I said.  Impeachment without a conviction could cause the Democrats to lose the House.
Does everyone understand why more than half of the Democrats in the House are not in favor of impeachment?  Because they are worried that if they pursue impeachment, they put their seats at risk. And they have good reason to worry.  Look at the chart below.  The Dems flipped 39 seats in 2018 (excluding Pennsylvania which was redistricted).   They won those seats by +5 percentage points on average.  No wonder only six of those 39 new reps have come out for impeachment!  Those seats could easily flip back.  The moderate constituents who elected them in 2018, switching from GOP votes in 2016, do not want impeachment.  Pursuing impeachment could cause these seats to flip back to the GOP in 2020.  And with them, the GOP wins back the House!

Winning Dem Districts in 2018
Number
Margin of Win in 2018
Want to Impeach Trump
Have not come out for impeachment
Remained DEM
197
+48%
95/197 = 48%
102/197 = 52%
Flipped from GOP to DEM
39*
+5%
6 /39 = 15%
33 /39 = 85%
*Excludes Pennsylvania which was redistricted

And those brave Democrats coming out for impeachment?  They won their seats by +48 percentage points!  Don’t they realize they are putting their colleagues in a brutal spot, one that could cost them their seats, and the Dems their majority, which right now is the only bulwark against all sorts of hideous potential GOP legislation?
It is telling that only 13 million Americans watched the Mueller hearings, far less than the 19 million that watched James Comey or the 21 million that watched Brett Kavanaugh.  America is, by and large, done with Mueller.  The sad fact is that very few minds were changed by his two-year investigation, and there ain’t no Putin phone call on tape.  Politico/Morning Consult just ran a post-Mueller testimony poll on impeachment and the results were unchanged:  47% against impeachment, 36% for, 16% undecided.
You know how when someone is losing an argument, they tend to say the same thing over and over again, just getting louder each time until they are practically shouting?  Does that ever work?  The Dems version is:  first, Trump should be impeached on the face of the actual events (e.g., his on-air admission to Lester Holt that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation); OK, (louder) now we should impeach based on the Mueller Report; still not convinced -- OK (shouting) now the Mueller testimony; not yet – (screaming) wait’ll you hear Don McGahn!  But the content remains the same, only the voice gets louder.  It’s not working; it's not convincing anyone on the other side.  As horrific as Trump is, we have to get real. 
Folks, we cannot blow this.  Here’s the Pelosi plan.  Don’t impeach, it’s a loser.  Express outrage, great.  Let those subpoenas fly and do battle in the courts.  Bring McGahn, Hope Hicks and the crew to the microphone, in public.   Bring the dirt out in the open, and soil Trump with it. 
But let all that go on in the background, with the occasional headline.  It may do some damage.  But don’t spend your time waiting for impeachment.  It ain’t happening unless that Putin tape shows up.  No, spend your time registering Democratic voters and encouraging your candidates to talk about health care, climate change and income inequality, issues where the GOP is vulnerable.  And then when one of the lucky 24 wins the Democratic nomination, whether it is Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg or Wayne Messam, get on board and work like a dog for that candidate, as if that candidate were your own.
The unintended consequence of the Mueller disaster is that now we can bury the impeachment fantasy and turn to the real task, defeating Donald Trump on November 3, 2020.

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1 comment:

  1. As Laurence H. Tribe points out:
    "Savvy House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to spare the Democrats in red and purple congressional districts from facing electoral revolt, gave Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler the go-ahead without first holding a floor vote on whether to conduct hearings into the president’s impeachment."

    My short take: Pelosi has said over and over again, "not now." Impeachment processes will open up the conflict between Democrats and Republicans, and there were some urgent, crucial votes which needed some bipartisan agreement -- I don't know all of what may be on Pelosi's mind, but two obvious ones are the debt limit and avoiding the impacts of a mandated sequester. Last week, the House finished up doing those two things and began its recess. The Senate should do the same this week. The President has said he will sign. Once all that is done, Congress can muddle through without substantial bipartisan cooperation.

    I would be unsurprised if Democrats come back to Washington in September with a majority of the caucus backing a formal action to endorse an impeachment investigation. A vote to do so in September would allow further investigation, with details dripping in October and November, and a formal committee vote just after Thanksgiving's break. Hand it to the Senate then and let them demonstrate their allegiance to Trump as the first votes of the 2020 process happen. The least comfortable will be among the 22 Republican Senators up for election. Anything more than a "show trial" process will anger the vehement Trump supporters. If there is only a "show trial" process, traditional Republicans who are NOT Trumpites would need to declare themselves, with some abandoning Trump in favor of Constitutional government.

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