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Washington Report November 2, 2019

02 Nov 2019

Washington Report November 2, 2019

On Lawmaker’s Radar … Impeachment Begins … Vindman’s Vindication … Pompeo’s Faustian Bargain … Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi … and other news of the week.
After yesterday’s impeachment vote, Congress is scheduled to begin a week-long recess today.
Best,
Joyce Rubenstein
Capstone National Partners

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On Lawmakers’ Radar
BGov Pelosi Sees Drug Price Deal Pelosi told Bloomberg today that she thinks a deal with Trump to lower the cost of prescription drugs is still possible even amid the impeachment inquiry. Pelosi said Democrats’ prescription drug measure was crafted with a bipartisan compromise in mind, seeking to limit what Medicare will pay and then pressure drugmakers to apply lower prices to the commercial market.
Spending Talks Amid Inquiry: Pelosi said today that she doubts Trump would respond to the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry by forcing a confrontation over funding that might trigger a government shutdown later this month. “
USMCA Prospects: Trump’s U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement has sufficient support for House passage, but that might not be good enough to get a vote this year. Pelosi today called Trump’s NAFTA replacement the “easiest trade deal that we’ve ever done.” Pelosi said that negotiators are “on a path to yes,” saying she wouldn’t rule out a deal being struck next year. “Hopefully we can do it sooner, but I said when it’s ready, we’ll do it.”

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Impeachment Begins
Axios “During the House’s historic vote to set the ground rules for the impeachment of Donald J. Trump, members shouted and booed as the votes popped up in lights on the wall above them.”

You could see Republicans shaking their heads as the “Yea” votes soared. Speaker Pelosi lost only two Democrats; no Republicans crossed over. Why it matters: The Legislative Branch embarks on its ultimate weapon against the Executive Branch with the two parties locked in corners.
AP: The only Democratic “no”s were Reps. Jeff Van Drew, a New Jersey freshman, and 28-year veteran Collin Peterson of Minnesota, one of the House’s most conservative Democrats. Both are battling for reelection in Republican-leaning districts. Also supporting the rules: independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who left the GOP this year after announcing he was open to impeachment.
Party Lines
Atlantic “Despite a few murmurs of dissent in the weeks leading up to Thursday’s vote, the House formalized next steps in the inquiry along party lines. Trump’s critics will dismiss the vote as a procedural affair, which is almost always a straight party-line vote in the House. But in other ways, this resolution—merely affirming an impeachment investigation, not judging any articles themselves—should have been the easiest for Republicans to go along with. Instead, lawmakers once again retreated to their corners of comfort.

… How Americans more broadly regard the impeachment inquiry is still fuzzy math, with some nationwide polls showing around 50 percent support and some swing-state surveys showing tighter margins. But the president continues to struggle among women voters.
Given that women skew much more Democratic than men, it seems logical that they would align with the broader Democratic Party on removing Trump from office. But multiple national and state-level polls show that even independent and politically unaffiliated women are more supportive of the inquiry than their male counterparts. That these women in particular are backing the inquiry could be a bad sign for the president.”
Historical Perspective
Axios ” It wasn’t this stark 21 years ago, for the 1998 vote launching the impeachment of William J. Clinton: 31 Democrats joined all Republicans in setting up a formal process for considering impeachment, Paul Kane points out in the WashPost:

“Look, it’s just a more partisan time,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), told Kane. “Each party is much more cohesive.” … Sign of the times: “In 1998, two of Connecticut’s five members of the House were Republicans and three of Arkansas’s four-member delegation were Democrats. Today, … Connecticut [is] fully Democratic and Arkansas fully Republican.”
“Back in 1998, Clinton was dramatically more popular than Trump is today — his job approval rating never fell below 60% even as his personal scandals spun out into the open, month after month. Clinton’s highest [Gallup] rating, 73%, came the weekend the House approved two articles of impeachment against him.”

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Vindman’s Vindication
Mike Jason, Former US Army Colonel for the Atlantic “For more than two centuries the Army has provided a home for foreign-born soldiers looking to prove their dedication to their adopted country. …

On the long list of immigrant soldiers is also Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who was born in Ukraine and came to the United States at the age of 3. Vindman began his Army career as an infantry officer, earned his Ranger Tab, and later, while leading troops in Iraq, his Combat Infantryman’s Badge. During that tour, he was wounded and was awarded a Purple Heart.
But what has made Vindman famous was that [Tuesday], he put on his dress blues and marched to Capitol Hill to testify that he witnessed potentially improper behavior by President Donald Trump. And for this act of duty, he was smeared as an untrustworthy foreigner.

…. I can only hope that despite the attacks against him, Vindman knows he is one of many in a long and enduring line of patriots born elsewhere, and that his many thousands of brothers- and sisters-in-arms admire his commitment to his oath of office and to the Army’s values.”
Transcript Gaps
Axios “From the moment the White House released its partial transcript of President Trump’s Ukraine call, a huge unknown was: What was said during the ellipses? We now have an eye-opening answer: According to accounts of impeachment testimony by a White House national security official (Alexander Vindman), those passages included explosive topics — direct mentions of the Bidens and Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company that hired Hunter Biden.”

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The GOP Tax Cuts
Atlantic “Trump’s signature legislative achievement was the corporate-tax cut he signed in 2017. Republicans said it would grow the economy by up to 6 percent, stimulate business investment, and pay for itself.
None of those promises have come to pass. GDP growth has declined to less than 2% according to the latest report, released yesterday. Business investment has now declined for two straight quarters, dragging down economic growth. And the federal deficit exceeds $1 trillion. These shortcomings alone might be enough to embolden Democrats to fight Trump on economic grounds just one year from a crucial 2020 election. But they’re just the tip of the iceberg.

Trump … had a vision of the United States where the exports would be bigger, the trade deals would be better, and “forgotten” Americans working in declining sectors like coal mining would be restored to their rightful place at the center of the economy. This bold strategy hinged on the theory that trade wars were “good, and easy to win.”

None of those promises have come to pass, either. Let’s go through them one by one. The U.S. manufacturing sector is practically in a recession. The ISM index, a key measure of that industry’s health, registered its lowest number in 10 years. Real exports of goods and services have declined in the past year, after peaking in 2018. Mining jobs have declined in the past 12 months, too. Finally, hovering in the background behind declining investment, sputtering manufacturing, and wilting exports is the trade war with China, which has proved neither “good” nor “easy” for American businesses.

So how do we reconcile these two facts: The promises of the Republican tax plan have failed as spectacularly as Trump’s grand vision of a New American Mercantilism, and the U.S. economy as a whole is actually doing fine for now?
The answer, basically, is that while Trump can’t deliver, the American consumer continues to chug along. Consumer spending, which was the one bright spot in yesterday’s GDP report, beat forecasts by rising nearly 3 percent. Unemployment is at a 60-year low, and wage growth has accelerated for the poorest workers. (Ironically, these positive trends have been buoyed by large federal deficits, which break another Trump campaign promise.)”

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“Pompeo Makes The Faustian Bargain”
… FLOATS UKRAINE CONSPIRACY THEORIES AS HE LOSES A GRIP ON STATE
Hive “As a parade of current and former diplomats have testified before Congress in the House impeachment inquiry, Mike Pompeo has largely treated the spectacle on Capitol Hill as a solar eclipse, refusing to look directly at it. Two days after Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, told investigators under oath that he sent a cable to the secretary of state outlining his concerns about a quid pro quo involving military aid to Kiev, Pompeo was … dipping his toe into the right wing fever swamp by floating a fresh conspiracy theory about Hunter Biden and the Obama administration’s policy toward Ukraine. …
That Pompeo chose to don a tinfoil hat as opposed to defending his subordinates is hardly shocking. … Pompeo’s fate is undeniably intertwined with Trump’s.
… there is a deep sense that Pompeo’s tenure is untenable. “There are active conversations about when he will go,” Brett Bruen, a former foreign service officer, told me. This view is cemented now that the State Department has agreed to turn over records of all the communications between Pompeo and Giuliani by November 22. And the undertones of Pompeo’s latest jaunt to Kansas are not lost on anyone. “This trip last week on workforce development and spending time with Ivanka out in his home state was such an obvious political play that even the most basic observer of politics could see right through it,” Bruen added. (Pompeo told the Wichita Eagle, there has been “no change” in his plan not to run for Senate.)

The impeachment inquiry has revealed Pompeo’s lip service about “swagger” and buttressing the foreign service was exactly that—lip service. Pompeo is an object lesson in that no matter how low the bar is set, one can still trip over it.”

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Bakr al-Baghdadi
NYT “Days after the Islamc State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and his heir apparent were killed in back-to-back attacks by United States forces in northern Syria, the group broke its silence on Thursday to confirm their deaths, announce a new leader and warn America: “Do not be happy.” Mr. Trump and Pentagon officials said Mr. al-Baghdadi had blown himself up with a suicide vest, also killing two children, after he had been cornered on Saturday in a dead-end tunnel during an American military raid in a northern Syrian village. Mr. al-Muhajir was killed on Sunday in an airstrike elsewhere in northern Syria.
The Islamic State announcement said that Mr. al-Baghdadi had been succeeded as leader by Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi. Almost nothing is publicly known about Mr. al-Qurayshi, including his real name, and counterterrorism analysts were scrambling Thursday to try to figure out who he is. Daniele Raineri, a journalist and analyst who has been studying the Islamic State’s leadership structure for more than a decade, said that ISIS leaders often acquire a new nom de guerre with the appointment to a new position, meaning Mr. al-Qurayshi may have had a completely different name last week.
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Axios “To kill Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — arguably the most important national security accomplishment of the Trump presidency — the U.S. relied on many tools President Trump has spurned.:
– The raid’s planners needed a U.S. ground presence in Iraq, where the mission launched and returned.
– They depended on intelligence from Kurdish partners on the ground.
– And they needed America’s engagement on the ground in Syria for intel and situational awareness.
Why it matters: NYT reports that Trump’s abrupt order three weeks ago for the U.S. withdrawal from Syria “disrupted the meticulous planning underway and forced Pentagon officials to speed up the plan for the risky night raid before their ability to control troops, spies and reconnaissance aircraft disappeared.”

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2020 Watch
GOP’s NIGHTMARE SCENARIO Axios “A growing number of Republicans are privately warning of increasing fears of a total wipeout in 2020: House, Senate, and White House.
– House Republicans in swing districts are retiring at a very fast pace, especially in the suburbs of Texas and elsewhere.
– Rep. Greg Walden — the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the only Republican in Oregon’s congressional delegation — yesterday shocked the party by becoming the 19th GOP House member to not seek re-election.
– The Republican Senate majority, once considered relatively safe, suddenly looks in serious jeopardy. Democrats are raising more money, and polling better, than Republican incumbents in battleground after battleground.
– President Trump trails every major Democratic candidate nationally and in swing states — and his favorable ratings remain well under 50%.
Why it matters: All of this is unfolding while the economy still looks strong, and before public impeachment proceedings have officially begun.
The biggest recent change is Republicans’ increasingly precarious hold on the Senate.
National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar writes in his “Against the Grain” column (subscription) that “the pathway for a narrow Democratic takeover of the upper chamber is looking clearer than ever”: “If Trump doesn’t win a second term, Democrats only need to net three seats to win back the majority.”
Scott Reed, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce senior political strategist, tells me that third-quarter fundraising reports showing three Republican senators being out-raised by Democratic challengers (in Arizona, Iowa and Maine) “are a three-alarm fire.” The well-funded Chamber started TV ads in Arizona last week, launches an ad today in Maine, and will add a third state next week. That’s the earliest the group has ever gone on the air: Ads typically begin after Thanksgiving or New Year’s.
Republican strategists and campaign staffers said that with the polarization of the Trump era, key House and Senate races will depend even more than usual on the presidential race.
What to watch: Senate races look so tight that control could be decided by a January 2021 runoff in Georgia.
Beto O’Rourke Ends 2020 Bid
WaPo “The former Texas congressman publicly announced his decision in a blog post. He entered the race in March, causing an initial stir when Oprah Winfrey touted his candidacy and Vanity Fair featured him in a cover article. But he was not able to duplicate in the presidential contest the fundraising and campaigning prowess he demonstrated in his 2018 race to try to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R).

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Donald Trump Jr. Is Disgusted By People Who Trade On Their Family Name
[This is NOT an Onion headline.]
Vanity Fair “At present, Donald Trump Jr., along with his brother Eric, runs his family’s business, which was cofounded by his grandfather and is owned by his dad. As of August, he was reportedly worth more than $150 million, the bulk of which was presumably acquired by virtue of being a Trump. But you know what really chaps Junior’s hide? People who profit from their family names, like one Hunter Biden.

Dropping by Hannity on Wednesday night, the elder Trump boy told the Fox News host, “I wish my name was Hunter Biden. I could go abroad, make millions off of my father’s presidency—I’d be a really rich guy. It would be incredible. But because my name is Trump, if I took 1.5 dollars from China—not 1.5 billion, like Hunter, but 1.5 dollars—their heads would explode.”
Donny, obviously, has been tasked with casting aspersions on Joe Biden’s son for taking a gig as a paid board member of a Ukrainian gas company while his father was V.P., … a message that might be better delivered by someone who’s not a literal poster child for nepotism.

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The Sovereign State Of Facebook
Axios “Facebook’s scale and power make it seem more a kind of quasi-sovereign nation than a traditional company.
Why it matters: Digital giants like Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon are making the kinds of decisions about speech, personal safety, political power and financial relationships that belonged to governments in the past. Facebook’s operations as a quasi-state span realms such as:

1. Speech: Facebook’s mission of connecting people, combined with its global reach and billions of users, means that it is constantly making decisions about who can say what.
2. Money: Facebook launched its own global cryptocurrency, Libra.
3. Safety: Facebook’s global footprint means it is constantly dealing with waves of conflict.
4. Taxes: Facebook stockpiles our data to target ads and fine-tunes our “engagement.”
Our thought bubble: Governments must manage complex webs of stakeholders wielding constantly shifting amounts of political power. Facebook has a rough road ahead because it suddenly must perform this dance everywhere.

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Twitter As The Anti-Facebook
Axios “Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said … in a series of tweets that the tech giant will no longer accept political or advocacy advertising of any kind.
Twitter’s move to ban political ads is the latest of several moves by the platform to position itself as an antidote to what critics see as Facebook’s missteps and ethical lapses.” Why it matters: The free speech banner Facebook is waving used to be shared by most of the big social media companies.
But amid the backlash toward Facebook for its role in spreading misinformation, rivals are distancing themselves — and are using the moment to frame their free speech principles as better suited to the era of social media. Facebook has doubled down on its message that running politicians’ ads containing lies is little different from running them on broadcast networks.
Dorsey Disagrees .. Twitter acknowledges that a tech platform’s ability to distribute ads in a highly targeted manner, and with easily tested and customizable messaging, is different from broadcast TV — where networks are required by law to run ads from political candidates, regardless of accuracy.
Between the lines: Political ads don’t make up a significant revenue stream for Twitter, so this was an easier decision than it would be for Facebook. The bottom line: This is a big step for Twitter, and it may put pressure on other digital platforms to follow suit.

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“The Nationals just pulled off the greatest postseason upset run in the history of baseball. And I doubt it’s even a close call,” writes columnist Tom Boswell, who started his career at The Washington Post as a copy aide in 1969. “[T]here will never be a Nationals team like this. Let it all loose, D.C. Go shark raving mad.”

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