Come and see the show

U.S. Congressmen Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0.

Former PBS host Bill Moyers tells CNN he fears for the United States, “for the first time, because a society, a democracy, can die of too many lies. And we’re getting close to that terminal moment, unless we reverse the obsession with lies that are being fed around the country.” Moyers and colleague Michael Winship bought a full page ad in the New York Times urging PBS to rebroadcast the impeachment hearings in prime time. Hearings begin Wednesday. PBS rebuffed their request:

“If you want to get the whole story of Trumpgate, you need to watch the whole hearing,” he said, noting that many Americans will be at work and at school during the testimony, unable to watch in real time.

“This is a moment in American history where the arc of justice will either be bent forward or it will be bent backward,” he said. “So everyone who wants to see it should have the chance to see the whole story.”

Moyers also noted that “you never know what’s going to happen in the hearings.”

Oh, I think we do if the GOP has anything to say about it. Republicans have added Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) to the House Intelligence Committee where hearings begin. They plan to tailor their performances to an audience of one. The acting president will be watching (Politico):

“Leader [Kevin] McCarthy, ranking member [Devin] Nunes and Jim Jordan are taking preparation efforts to heightened levels with a work-around-the-clock mentality,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), one of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, told POLITICO.

(Fair warning: Put down your coffee now.)

“Depositions are being reviewed to show the inconsistencies from facts that we know exist,” Meadows added.

Facts?!

“Jim Jordan has been on the front lines in the fight for fairness and truth,” McCarthy said in a statement. “His addition will ensure more accountability and transparency in this sham process.”

(Was I right about the coffee?)

The president wants a spectacle. Republicans plan to stage one.

“You want your best contributors for ‘showtime.’ Driving public opinion is key to many — on both sides of the aisle,” one GOP lawmaker said. “Jordan is definitely a showman.”

Welcome back, my friends
To the show that never ends
We’re so glad you could attend
Come inside! Come inside

By the rules, Jordan will get one five-minute round of questioning “unless other rank-and-file members yield their time to him.” They will.

The New York Times Editorial Board this morning provides a “field guide” to the GOP line of counterattack on “facts that we know exist,” everything from “quid pro no” to “quid pro so?” to, finally, “This is a coup by the Deep State! A decorated American soldier is a Ukrainian agent! The witnesses who have testified are ‘Never Trumpers‘!”

Buckle up.

Come inside, the show’s about to start
Guaranteed to blow your head apart
Rest assured you’ll get your money’s worth
The greatest show in Heaven, Hell, or Earth

Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.

The bad, the good and the outlier

by Tom Sullivan

Eli Wallach in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in 2018 campaign commercial.

Catherine Rampell delivers some good news otherwise buried in a torrent of bad for the Trump administration.

First, to summarize the bad.

Witness after witness before House investigators confirm in their testimony that Donald Trump, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giluliani and their associates attempted to use the presidency for personal, political gain. The revelations have turned his spinning defenders into dervishes. It will only get worse for Trump (and harder for his lackeys to spin) when public hearings begin next week.

Politico reports:

In the assessment of the five diplomats at the center of the impeachment inquiry, Giuliani was everywhere. He was texting with State Department officials and directing U.S. foreign policy, all seemingly at the behest of the president. He was Trump’s free-wheeling emissary seeking to push a foreign government to, in effect, publicly tar Joe Biden.

House investigators have stitched together a uniquely Trumpian narrative — one of retribution against perceived enemies, defiance of diplomatic norms and a pervasive fear that Russia would benefit from the disarray, all to help Trump fend off his top 2020 rival.

Donald Trump has turned the executive branch into an ongoing criminal enterprise like his others. House investigations underway will determine whether Congress will shut down this one the way the state of New York shut down the fraudulent Trump Foundation. New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Thursday Trump must pay $2 million in damages “for improperly using charitable assets to intervene in the 2016 presidential primaries and further his own political interests.” The money will go to nonprofit organizations in the state.

In “19 paragraphs of factual admissions,” Trump and the Foundation admitted multiple acts of self-dealing in court filings while claiming in public James “is deliberately mischaracterizing this settlement for political purposes.” And why isn’t she investigating the Clinton Foundation, huh?!

Expect past Trumpian behavior to be prologue.

Now, for the good news. Medicaid work requirements designed to kick poor and sick Americans out of Medicaid coverage are beginning to crumble, writes Rampell:

I’m referring to Medicaid work requirements, policies that kick low-income people off their insurance if they don’t register sufficient work hours. Until recently, it looked as if these programs were on an unstoppable march, with two dozen states pursuing them.

But with the state elections in Kentucky and Virginia this week, plus policy rollbacks recently announced in other states, things are starting to change.

Medicaid work requirements might sound reasonable enough. Ostensibly, they’re about helping poor people move up in the world, or at least making sure they’re not taking advantage of taxpayer largesse. If you buy the premise that poor people choose to be poor because poverty is just too darn comfortable, maybe taking away their access to insulin or inhalers is just the kick in the rear they need to go out and get a job.

Turns out that’s not how it works. Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds most recipients are already working. Most of those who aren’t are in school, care-giving or ill. Or else lack the child care, skills, or clean criminal records needed to hold down a job.

But it is no surprise to find that to dislodge a few suspected, undeserving deadbeats, “small-government” conservatives are willing to spend more than $250 million in Kentucky alone. And they don’t mind if this evil rain falls on the just as well as the unjust:

In Arkansas — the first state to actually implement these requirements — more than 18,000 people lost their health insurance over the course of a few months. Many of these Arkansans actually met the work requirements, or were legally exempted from them. Yet they were still purged from the insurance rolls, due to onerous and confusing reporting requirements.

Consider one such person whom I profiled last year, Adrian McGonigal. He was employed at a chicken plant and thought he had sufficiently documented his hours. He lost his Medicaid coverage anyway, leaving him unable to get the prescriptions he needed to manage his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). He landed in the hospital multiple times and eventually lost his job.

Rampell cites a New England Journal of Medicine study that found work requirements shrank insurance rolls but did not increase employment. Oh, work requirements may also be illegal, but in this administration, that’s probably by design.

Even so, states are figuring out this “sticks” approach is costing them. They are shelving work requirements:

In fact, just last month, two more states — Arizona and Indiana — announced that they were pausing programs that had already been approved by the Trump administration.

Then on Tuesday, Democratic electoral victories in Kentucky and Virginia raised expectations that these states will soon rescind their states’ policies as well. This would mimic a similar reversal from Maine earlier this year, when a Democrat replaced a far-right Republican as governor.

The progress isn’t universal. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) recently unveiled his own work requirements proposal — expected legal, administrative and human costs be damned.

For now, Georgia appears to be as much an outlier as Kemp. Authoritarians gonna authoritarian.

Comforting the Afflictor

William Blake, Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils, c.1826, Tate, London, 2011. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

First, this isn’t a horse race. What we see in 2020 election prognostication is a media as flummoxed as the Democrats about how to deal with a phenomenon like Donald Trump. The Fourth Estate has yet to shake itself out of covering this presidency, this election, as it would a normal one. The election is a horse race. It’s always a horse race. This one, 2020, is a horse race. Except this is not Situation Normal, even if it is AFU.

The Washington Post and ABC News have another poll to show us this morning. This one purports (as they all do) to give us some insight into where the 2020 presidential race is headed one year out:

The new poll highlights the degree to which most of the country already has made a judgment about the president’s performance and their voting preferences next year. Among the 39 percent of registered voters who approve of Trump’s job performance, Trump is winning at least 95 percent support against each of five possible Democratic opponents. But among the 58 percent of voters who disapprove of Trump, he receives no more than 7 percent support.

Etc., etc.

And yet, the House will release another tranche of impeachment inquiry transcripts today. Politico asks, “Since the release of the first two transcripts … Monday, have you seen a single stitch of information that helps President DONALD TRUMP? Have you found any information exculpatory for him? Can you name one single fact that’s changed the basic arc of this story?”

The impeachment inquiry the Ukraine affair spawned is only going to get worse for the White House. Polls purporting to provide insight into next November’s outcome are meaningless except as thermometer readings of how the patient, our very republic, is faring today.

That’s the trouble with normal, Bruce Cockburn sang, “it always gets worse.” And it will. The question is, for whom?

The problem with “normal” press coverage of Donald Trump is it throws gasoline on a flame. Trump’s informal interactions with the press are litanies of unchallenged lies.

“We’ll be showing that to you real soon.” [evidence that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is a Never-Trumper]

“The whistleblower gave a false report.”

“I have the real polls.”

“It was a perfect phone call.”

Why must the Fourth Estate encourage Trump’s performance-lying? Virtually everything he says is a lie. Asking Trump questions they know he will lie about gives those lies oxygen, spreading them like those your right-wing uncle used to forward in chain emails. Broadcasting lies (not uttered under oath) is not news. It is comforting the Afflictor.

The problem, of course, is what to do about it. There is no journalistic or business model for reporting on a chief executive who is either a pathological liar or, worse, a methodically deliberate one.

CNN’s Daniel Dale live-tweets Trump’s MAGA rallies. He tries “to give Trump the maximum benefit of the doubt.” Why? A courtesy to the office, one presumes, not to the man.

Trump has “given us reason to doubt literally everything he’s saying” because he is “proactively lying about tiny stuff all the time.” But @ddale8 says “I still try to give Trump the maximum benefit of the doubt” – watch his full remarks here pic.twitter.com/Fv95tMBfQP— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) November 4, 2019

Credit Dale’s tweeting with live-correcting Trump on the fly.

But even when the press tries to push back live, as talk-show show hosts did on Sunday, interviews with Trump administration officials are time I’ll never get back. Nothing new is revealed. It’s talking points and propaganda reinforced from coast to coast. The press persists in going through the motions of covering this administration as it would a normal one.

As worrisome are the Democratic presidential candidates running as if there is a normal to get back to. Jamelle Bouie comments this morning on the Democrats who have yet to admit that is not going to happen:

Arguably the most important divide in the Democratic primary field isn’t by ideology, but between those candidates who understand the obstacles ahead and those who don’t. Despite the example of the last 10 years, the centrist candidates are still running as if persuasion and compromise will win the day.

Good luck with that.

Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.

When you’ve lost the suburbs…

by Tom Sullivan

“If you lose, it sends a really bad message,” Trump told his Kentucky rally. “You can’t let that happen to me!” They did.

Virginia Democrats have a lot to crow about this morning. Elsewhere, some interesting results too. Too many to capture this morning, but let’s have a go with some headlines.

Virginia

Democrats gained full control of the state government for the first time in a generation, flipping at least two seats in the state Senate and at least five in the House of Delegates. They were aided in part by strong turnout and by court-ordered redrawing of state House districts earlier this year. Republicans have not won a statewide race in Virginia since 2009.

An upset in suburban Richmond makes Ghazala Hashmi, a former college literature professor, the first Muslim woman to win a seat in the state Senate:

“I didn’t know if I actually had a home in this country,” she said in an interview before the voting. “My anxiety was caused by wondering if other people would speak up and support the assault we were seeing on civil liberties.” She decided to speak up and represent herself.

Other notable winners on Tuesday included Shelly Simonds, a Democrat who lost a House race in 2017 in a random drawing after the votes produced a dead tie. In a rematch, Ms. Simonds defeated the Republican incumbent, David Yancey.

Last night Simonds won the seat in Newport News by 18 points.

Juli Briskman, the cyclist who two years ago lost her job after flipping off Donald Trump’s motorcade, won a seat on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. She defeated an eight-year Republican incumbent.

Kentucky

Democrat Andy Beshear, Kentucky’s sitting attorney general, narrowly defeated unpopular Republican Gov. Matt Bevin by a mere 5,100 votes (0.4%) in a state President Donald Trump carried in 2016 by 30 points:

Bevin, elected governor in 2015, is a deeply unpopular figure in Kentucky. He has faced backlash for seeking to undercut the state’s Medicaid expansion and calling teachers “selfish” and accusing them of a “thug mentality” when they protested after he threatened to cut their pensions.

Still, Democrats’ victory in a state that Trump carried by 30 percentage points in the 2016 election could be seen as an ominous sign for the President heading into his 2020 reelection bid. The result showed that Trump wasn’t able to carry his preferred candidate over the finish line. It was also a potential sign that Democrats’ start of impeachment proceedings against Trump has not yet triggered enough anger within the GOP base, or backlash among independents and moderates, to benefit Republicans.

Or it simply could be Trump, like Bevin (who campaigned on his close connection to Trump), has worn out his welcome even in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state, and the effects of the impeachment have already begun to eat into Trump’s base. Bevin has not conceded. He has several options for contesting Tuesday’s results.

Mississippi

Republican Tate Reeves handily defeated the state’s attorney general, Democrat Jim Hood, to win the governor’s race in Mississippi. Republicans maintain their control of the governor’s mansion and majorities in both legislative chambers.

Pennsylvania

“The blue wave crashes down on Pennsylvania again,” blares the Philadelphia Inquirer headline:

The political forces that shaped last year’s midterm elections showed no signs of abating Tuesday, as voters turned on Republicans and establishment Democrats alike in races from Philadelphia and Scranton to the suburbs of Delaware and Chester Counties.

Blogger Susie Madrak wanted to make sure the significance of Democrats’ “comfortable leads” in these local elections in the swing state of Pennsylvania don’t get lost in the other election news:

Delaware County in suburban Philadelphia has been under Republican control since the Civil War:

Democrats declared victory in three races Tuesday night for Delaware County’s five-member council, sweeping Republicans entirely from what had been an all-Republican panel just a couple years ago.

Working Families Party candidate Kendra Brooks won an at-large seat on Philadelphia City Council in a historic victory, taking a seat held by Republicans for the last 70 years, the Inquirer reports:

“We broke the GOP,” Brooks said at a victory party in North Philadelphia. “We beat the Democratic establishment. … They said a black single mom from North Philly wasn’t the right person but we have shown them that we are bigger than them.”

Democratic turnout in the suburbs in 2018 and 2019 could spell trouble for Trump in 2020:

Democratic pickups in Virginia occurred in Washington, D.C., and Richmond suburbs that already had trended in the party’s direction in recent years. In Kentucky, Beshear gained considerable ground on Bevin in Kentucky’s suburban Cincinnati, Ohio, counties that had helped propel the Republican to office four years ago. Other statewide GOP candidates in Kentucky won by comfortable margins. But the dip at the top of the ticket still offered another example in the Trump era of suburban voters’ willingness to abandon established Republican loyalties – even with the president making a personal appeal on behalf of a GOP standard-bearer.

One can hope.

Rattled: Trump’s prevent defense

All four White House officials scheduled to give closed-door testimony today in the House impeachment inquiry will not appear, multiple news outlets report. They include National Security Council lawyers John Eisenberg and Michael Ellis as well Brian McCormack of the office of management and budget, and Robert Blair, a top aide to chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Eisenberg and McCormack are under subpoena. Blair was on the July 25 call with the president of Ukraine at the center of the inquiry.

CNN reports the administration is claiming executive privilege in Eisenberg’s case, while officials claim Ellis, McCormack and Blair won’t be able to have a White House lawyer present.

OMB officials Michael Duffey and Russell Vought will not appear as scheduled later this week, a source tells CNN.

The Washington Post explains:

Russell Vought, a Mulvaney protege who leads the White House Office of Management and Budget, intends a concerted defiance of congressional subpoenas in coming days, and two of his subordinates will follow suit — simultaneously proving their loyalty to the president and creating a potentially critical firewall regarding the alleged use of foreign aid to elicit political favors from a U.S. ally.

The OMB is at the nexus of the impeachment inquiry because Democrats are pressing for details about why the White House budget office effectively froze the Ukraine funds that Congress had already appropriated.

Donald Trump is his own war room, press secretary Stephanie Grisham told Fox News. He is enraged that his “employees” have been testifying before Congress. He threatens to expose the whistleblower whose original complaint is irrelevant now that his account has been corroborated by multiple administration officials. Trump threatened Sunday to expose Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman (who already testified) as a “Never Trumper.” Reporters would see his evidence against an active duty Army officer on his White House staff “very soon.”

Trump-watchers know by now not to hold their breaths waiting.

Current and former officials tell the Post Trump “has asked for copies of witness statements so he can decide how to criticize them, complained that his lawyers are not doing enough to stop people from talking, and even encouraged members of Congress to question the credibility of people working in his own administration.”

Schooled in the dark art of winning at all costs by “master of situational immorality” Roy Cohn, Trump appears rattled. “Never admit mistakes. Always attack your accuser. Win no matter what. Gloat when you do,” the New York Daily News described Cohn’s strategy. Trump is clinging to Cohn’s advice while stonewalling the impeachment inquiry with a “prevent defense.”

False stories are being reported that a few Republican Senators are saying that President Trump may have done a quid pro quo, but it doesn’t matter, there is nothing wrong with that, it is not an impeachable event. Perhaps so, but read the transcript, there is no quid pro quo!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 4, 2019

Trump has gone from claiming there was no quid pro quo for releasing military aid to Ukraine to suggesting if there was, there was nothing impeachable about it. Cohn would not approve.

His defenders appeared on the Sunday talk shows claiming Trump committed no extortion because, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway told “Fox News Sunday,” “[Ukraine] got their aid, and that’s what’s important.” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told “Meet the Press,” “We know there’s no Ukraine investigation … the military aid got there.” Ukraine never delivered, so how could there be a crime?

But conspiracy is itself a crime. How many people has the U.S. jailed for terrorist plots they planned but never carried out?

The acting president found himself booed at two sporting events within a week. Trump’s ego is very fragile. He’s so accustomed to basking in glory at his MAGA rallies that he’ll internalize these booing incidents. A few more could shake his confidence both in his re-electability and his ability to hold off impeachment in the House that now seems inevitable. He’s already worried his firewall in the Senate may not hold.

Trump’s strategy to resist impeachment investigation is to commit more impeachable offences in public, which congress will have to investigate, leading him to commit more impeachable offences in public, etc. etc. In theory this could stretch things out forever. https://t.co/vNNC1b6cyh— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) November 4, 2019

“Strategy” may be generous here. Trump is clearly on the defensive and unaccustomed to playing defense.

Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.