Government Shutdown … Congressional Theatrics Caucus … Yes, A Quid Pro Quo … How To Fight Impeachment … U.S. Steps Back. Russia Steps Up … Rest Easy People Of Earth … There’s No Politics In Baseball: The Nats … and other news of the week.
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Not About Impeachment
Politico … but the government is slated to shut down in 27 days — on Nov. 21. There are just 12 days in session between now and then, so this is becoming a real issue that Washington is going to start focusing on soon. (Please don’t give us the “They won’t shut down the government” thing. These things are never planned!)
WEST WING LEGISLATIVE LESSON … There are many Trump allies who believe that if the government shuts down in November, impeachment will stop. They’re wrong. Members of Congress are paid out of mandatory accounts, and they are not subject to discretionary spending. Staff are paid from legislative branch spending, which is subject to appropriations, but a certain number work through shutdowns. THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT: A shutdown might change a narrative, but it will not stop impeachment.”
“A top House Democrat has approached Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about adding legislation that would rescue certain union pensions to the pending North American trade pact, a sign of intense final-stage deal-making on the trade agreement. The pension overhaul legislation could act as a powerful sweetener for organized labor and wavering Democrats who are skeptical about agreeing to a rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) pushed by President Trump.” (WaPo)
Quid Pro Quo Confirmed
“Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman,” Taylor testified. “When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.”
– Bill Taylor, Charge d’affaires, U.S. Embassy in Ukraine … military veteran and career diplomat who previously served as ambassador to Ukraine under George W. Bush
Hive Deep Dive “First there were the explosive text messages that mentioned “withhold[ing] security for help with a political campaign,” then came Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s press conference, in which he suggested aid to Ukraine was suspended over Trump’s desired investigations—and then shrugged it off and claimed the administration does similar things “all the time.” (Mulvaney later walked back his comments and blamed the press for “misconstruing” his remarks.)
On Tuesday, the most damning evidence yet of a quid pro quo came courtesy of Bill Taylor, who serves as charge d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine. In his damaging testimony to the House committees investigating impeachment, Taylor confirmed that he believed there to be a clear quid pro quo arrangement, in which the Trump administration withheld military aid to Ukraine—which had already been passed by Congress—unless Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky agreed to investigate the president’s political rivals and say so publicly. Recounting one conversation, Taylor said that Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland had told Zelensky and assistant Adriy Yermak, “although this was not a quid pro quo, if President Zelenskyy did not ‘clear things up’ in public, we would be at a ‘stalemate.’” “I understood a ‘stalemate’ to mean that Ukraine would not receive the much-needed military assistance,” Taylor testified.
Taylor, a military veteran and career diplomat who previously served as ambassador to Ukraine under George W. Bush, walked lawmakers through his experience with the Trump administration in his Ukraine role, during which time he quickly realized there “appeared to be two channels of U.S. policy-making and implementation, one regular and one highly irregular.” The “irregular” one, being directed by Sondland, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, and Rudy Giuliani, was pushing the Ukrainian investigation into Trump’s rivals, and, Taylor testified, “running contrary to the goals of longstanding U.S. policy” and “fundamentally undermin[ing]” the U.S.’s relationship with Ukraine as a result. …
The quid pro quo pressure on Ukraine appeared to come from Trump directly, according to Taylor’s testimony. The diplomat testified to Congress that he had been told by National Security Council Ukraine specialist Tim Morrison that while the president said he “was not asking for a ‘quid pro quo’,” Trump “did insist that President Zelenskyy go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference, and that President Zelenskyy should want to do this himself.” “During our call on September 8, Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman,” Taylor testified. “When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.” (The diplomat added that he believed that argument “made no sense,” as “the Ukrainians did not ‘owe’ President Trump anything.”)
Taylor, who was a participant in the incriminating text messages Volker turned over to Congress, also gave more context to the now-public conversations. After Taylor texted, “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” and Sondland replied, “Call me,” Taylor testified that he had a phone conversation with Sondland, in which the ambassador outright confirmed a quid pro quo. “During that phone call, Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelenskyy to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election,” Taylor testified. … “I said on September 9 in a message to Ambassador Gordon Sondland that withholding security assistance in exchange for help with a domestic political campaign in the United States would be ‘crazy,’” Taylor told lawmakers. “I believed that then, and I still believe that.”
Taylor’s Full Testimony … Click here.
Congressional Theatrics Caucus
WaPo “House Republicans’ defense of President Trump grew more frantic and disjointed Wednesday, with House members storming a closed-door meeting, delaying the testimony of an impeachment witness as the GOP grappled with a growing abuse-of-power scandal centered on the president. … Politico “They entered with phones — which is not permitted — and it stalled the entire hearing. It was a stunt. It had no chance of succeeding.”
AUDIENCE OF ONE Before entering the closed-door hearing, Republican lawmakers held a news conference to decry how Schiff, the California Democrat who runs the Intelligence Committee, was carrying out the panel’s portion of the impeachment inquiry. But none of the 13 Republicans who spoke defended Trump on the central allegation that he had pushed Ukraine to investigate Democrats while blocking military aid that had been approved for Kyiv. … In the end, House Republicans’ disruption of Wednesday’s impeachment hearings also did little to derail the effort. After the long delay, the planned impeachment testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper – who oversees Ukraine policy – resumed inside the secure facility.
Democrats have said they will open the process for public hearings in a matter of weeks after the initial stage of their investigation concludes.
How To Fight Impeachment
NYT “Senate Republicans introduced a resolution on Thursday condemning the House’s impeachment investigation and calling on Democrats to hold a formal vote authorizing the inquiry. … the move left the president’s allies in the same awkward place they have been for more than two weeks: unable or unwilling to mount a vigorous defense on the substance of the allegations and focused instead on trying to shake the public’s faith in the House’s impeachment process.”
(@jbarro): “It’s remarkable, the text of the resolution is all process complaints, no substantive defense of the president’s behavior.”
Axios’ @jonathanswan: “Very much by design. If it were the latter, the number of signatures would be… not ideal.”
THE SUSAN COLLINS BLUEPRINT — “Collins is among a group of senators from both parties who are increasingly citing their role as possible jurors in an impeachment trial. They argue that as impartial jurors, they shouldn’t make any foregone conclusion — especially about a scandal that could force Trump out of office. The reserved nature of Republicans like [Sen. Lamar] Alexander, who is retiring, and the moderate Collins suggests some in the president’s own party are legitimately open to Democrats’ arguments — an ominous sign for Trump as he faces a possible impeachment trial in the Senate. … By citing their role as jurors, senators can appear above the rancorous House proceedings — and demonstrate that they are taking their constitutional responsibilities seriously.” (Politico)
Politico “Impeachment investigators have negotiated in recent days with a lawyer for [John] Bolton about a date for him to be deposed behind closed doors, according to two people briefed on the matter. …
Those Federal Agencies
“Federal Agencies Found to Be Lax in Halting Fake Comments on Proposed Rules,”- “Senate investigators found that federal agencies do little or nothing to stop crimes and abuses committed in the systems they use to collect public comments on proposed regulations. A new bipartisan report, issued Thursday, said the agencies haven’t acted in even the most egregious cases, where real people’s identities, including dead people’s, are stolen and then submitted with comments they never wrote.” WSJ
U.S. Steps Back. Russia Steps Up.
Politico “What People Are Watching. Yesterday, Russia said it would help Turkey maintain control of the area. Earlier this month, Turkey led a military offensive there against the Kurds, which the country considers a terror threat. While the Kurds were forced to retreat from the border area under a cease-fire, this new agreement allows Russia to help force them further away. And to work with Turkey’s forces to patrol the border starting next week. The agreement solidifies Russia’s role in the region as it buddies up with Turkey – and adds to the list of reasons why President Trump has faced criticism over his decision to pull US troops out.
Politico “President Trump spoke from the White House Wednesday morning, and basically washed his hands of the situation in Syria, leaving Russia and Turkey as the dominant forces in the region. IMPORTANT BITES: Trump said he has instructed Treasury to lift sanctions on Turkey, “unless something happens that we’re not happy with.”
So, He’s NOT Bringing The Troops Home
WSJ “The White House is considering options for leaving about 500 U.S. troops in northeast Syria and for sending dozens of battle tanks and other equipment, officials said Thursday, the latest in an array of scenarios following President Trump’s decision this month to remove all troops there. The options, presented by military officials, would represent a reversal from the American withdrawal Mr. Trump wanted. It also would modify U.S. objectives—from countering Islamic State extremists to also safeguarding oil fields in eastern Syria with additional troops and new military capability. Washington sees the fields as potential leverage in future negotiations over Syria.”
Rest Easy, People Of Earth
NYT “The United States’ nuclear arsenal has been updated … it has moved away from a 1970s-era computer system that relied on eight-inch floppy disks. The overhaul was quietly completed in June.. SURPRISED? … some observers might be surprised to learn this was required at all as 8-inch floppy disks were a cutting-edge solution, oh in the 1960s and 1970s. THAT SAID, A “60 Minutes” report from 2014 pointed out a perhaps unexpected upside of relying on such old technology. Because the systems are not connected to the internet, they are exceptionally secure: Hackers can’t break into a floppy disk.
What’s A Floppy Disk? An artifact from a time when “the world was not wired,” according to Tom Persky, who inventories and sells floppy disks at what may be one of the largest such companies left, FloppyDisk.com. There was nowhere to log in to. There was no logging in and downloading software or data updates or anything like that.” Back then, if you wanted to get information like software onto a computer or a large device, you had to put it on a floppy disk, insert the disk into the machine, and then direct the machine to access the information. Introduced in the 1970s, the eight-inch floppy disk is a disk-based storage medium that holds 80 kilobytes of data. In comparison, a single modern flash drive can contain data from the equivalent of more than 3.2 million floppy disks.”
British leader seeks election: Prime Minister Boris Johnson challenged lawmakers to approve a vote on Dec. 12, hoping to win a mandate for his Brexit plan. The opposition Labour Party reacted coolly to the idea.
No fifth term for Tulsi Gabbard: The representative from Hawaii and Democratic presidential candidate said today that she would not seek re-election to Congress. She has denied speculation that she might run for the White House as a third-party candidate.
Betsy DeVos fined for contempt of court: A judge ruled that the education secretary had violated an order to stop collecting on loans owed by students from a for-profit chain of colleges.
Back pay for miners: A mine operator has agreed to pay some $5.1 million in unpaid wages after going bankrupt last summer. The dispute led to a monthslong protest in Kentucky in which workers blocked a coal train. (WaPo)
Axios “The count of children separated at the border by U.S. immigration authorities since July 2017 is now 5,460, according to ACLU data reported by AP. Of those separated from July 1, 2017, to June 26, 2018, 207 were under 5.”
ELECTORATE EXAMINATION … “Are the Suburbs Turning Democratic? It Depends Where You Look, NYT “The political dividing line in America used to be between cities, which were mostly Democratic, and suburbs, which had long been Republican. But today it runs through the very center of the suburbs themselves, between a densely populated inner ring that is turning blue and a more spacious outer ring that is becoming ever more red. This is as true in Alabama as it is in New York: Rural places and newer suburbs swung for Mr. Trump, while urban places and older suburbs favored Hillary Clinton.”
“Biden has raised $20.7 million from contributions of at least $500 — $1.5 million more than his nearest competitor, despite entering the race later than all of them. Biden drew donations from 114 former big money fundraisers for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the third quarter, the most of any Democrat, according to a Politico analysis.”
“Congressman Tim Ryan announced this afternoon that he is dropping out of the presidential race, an announcement that sent shock waves through the rest of the elevator.”
– Seth Meyer [late night TV]
‘There’s No Politics In Baseball’
Axios “The unlikely World Series run of the Washington Nationals has become a unifying force in a divided city, AP’s Ashraf Khalil writes. Nationals red and the trademark curly W are common sights across D.C., a city filled with transplants who bring their hometown loyalties with them. … With the Nats leading the Astros 2-0 in the best-of-seven series, Game 3 comes to Washington at 8:07 tonight.”
“There’s no politics in baseball.”
– said Beth Leeth, a Virginia resident
ELIJAH CUMMINGS, who represented Baltimore in the House for 23 years, laid in state in Statuary Hall this morning, and his life — and service in the Congress — was remembered by the highest-ranking politicians in America.
“His life validates the things we tell ourselves about what’s possible in this country. … There’s nothing weak about being honorable. You’re not a sucker to have integrity and treat others with respect.” – Barack Obama