FridayTalkingPoints.com

Friday Talking Points -- Everything's Just Impeachy-Keen

[ Posted Friday, November 15th, 2019 – 18:13 UTC ]

Rather than our usual weekly roundup, we are going to focus today solely on the public impeachment hearings. This is due to them being the most important thing that happened politically during the week, as well as the fact that we're admittedly more than a little frazzled sitting down to write this, after getting up at 6:00 A.M. and staring at the television for over six hours straight. Normally we would have used a good chunk of that time to sift the news stories from the past week, but that's simply not possible today. Nor is it all that important, because as mentioned everything else really pales in comparison to what is being witnessed right now by the American public.

What's most striking about the partisan divide in these hearings so far is the difference in demeanor. The Democrats are soberly laying out a prosecutorial case, in the serious fashion that such an endeavor demands. This, after all, is really the "grand jury" part of the case, where the prosecutor is allowed to lay out the evidence so that it can be judged worthy of a court case or not. That is precisely what the Democrats intended, and that is also precisely what they have been doing. Throughout it all, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff has remained absolutely unflappable, to an almost superhuman degree. Everything the Democrats do and say communicates one very basic message: this is very serious business, and should be given the gravitas it demands.

Republicans, on the other hand, don't feel as constrained, as has been obvious in both of the hearings. Today they were a little more restrained than on Wednesday, but their coordinated plan of "don't personally trash the witness" completely fell apart when, very early in the proceedings, Donald Trump personally trashed the witness via tweet. After this tweet was read into the record by Schiff, all the Republican kind words for Marie "Masha" Yovanovitch fell rather flat.

The most stunning moment of all came when the hearing concluded and the witness was exiting the room, because the public audience actually gave her a standing ovation, showing how little damage Trump's tweet had done. That was a pretty stunning public rebuke to Trump's attempts to smear and intimidate the witness, and will likely become one of the video highlights of the hearing on the news tonight.

All three witnesses in the public hearings this week were impressive and serious, and none showed the slightest shred of partisanship in either their testimony or their demeanor. They were, in a perfectly-appropriate term, all pretty unimpeachable witnesses.

In the face of such upright civil servants, the Republicans really have no comprehensive game plan to defend Trump. They have been flailing about, making points that only make sense to the denizens of Fox News, while not doing much of anything of note to convince any rational observer of whatever case they're attempting to make. There's a lot of sound and fury, but it winds up signifying nothing, to quote the Bard of Avon. The absence of an official "war room" at the White House set up to deal with crafting some sort of defense is openly on display, as Republicans ping-pong between possible storylines, sometimes contradicting themselves as they do so.

Trump did it. It's pretty plain to see. As he says: "Read the transcript." As time goes on, more and more shoes drop. So far, there have been precisely zero contradictions in the stories pretty much every witness is telling the investigation, except for Gordon Sondland's morphing testimony (he will certainly be an interesting witness next week, in the public testimony, because his credibility is already shot to pieces).

Trump wasn't interested in "fighting corruption in Ukraine." He was only interested in getting dirt on the Clintons and the Bidens, period. That's it in a nutshell. He abused the power of his office to do so, which Democrats feel is an impeachable offense. The whole case for impeaching Trump can fit into a single tweet, in fact (which is entirely appropriate, for him). As more and more witnesses add their perspective to this story, the story gets stronger with each telling. And we're only at the beginning of the process.

These witnesses are not some species of rabid partisan. Far from it. They are about as nonpartisan as you can get, in fact. They are not staunch Democrats nor staunch Republicans. Yovanovitch was first appointed by Ronald Reagan, for Pete's sake. They are not "never-Trumpers," because they all consider themselves completely divorced from American domestic politics. Well, all of them we've seen so far -- Sondland certainly doesn't fit into that mold. But it's pretty easy to see that none of them holds any sort of partisan grudge, they are instead alarmed about the subversion of the foreign policy process to suit one man's political needs. As the witness today explained, that is the sort of thing we're trying to convince other countries not to do, because it is so corrupt.

And as Adam Schiff so succinctly put it earlier this week: "If this isn't an impeachable offense, then what is?"

 

Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

There's really no debate about who the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week was for this particular week. Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided to put Adam Schiff in charge of the first phase of the impeachment inquiry, and now we know why. Schiff is an absolute rock. He simply cannot be flustered in any way, no matter how outrageous the Republicans behave towards him.

Schiff, of course, has been under attack for months by Republicans, led by Donald Trump himself. He's been called names, he's endured the slings and arrows of Fox News-inspired outrage, and he's come through it all without a scratch on him. He's even now being talked about as being Pelosi's choice to take over the speakership when she steps down, which is pretty impressive on its own.

In today's hearing, Schiff mastered the schedule perfectly, although part of this was really beyond his control (to be fair, that part was under Pelosi's control, meaning they may have coordinated this in advance). After opening statements from Yovanovitch, Schiff, and Nunes, the Democrats conducted their 45-minute counsel question period, and then a recess was immediately called. There were an imminent series of scheduled votes in the House, which all the members of the committee had to leave to attend. This break went on for almost two full hours, before the Republicans were allowed their period for counsel questions. This had the effect of removing the hearings completely from broadcast television (at least, on the channels we watched), as every station cut back into regular programming and then failed to return to the hearings when they recommenced. Perhaps this was merely my local television stations, but it was a pretty smart tactic, because this left only the Democratic side of the story told while most people were watching.

Later, Schiff called a second break, this one of only five minutes (which, in congressional terms, means "20 or 25 minutes by the actual clock"), right before the coatless Jim Jordan got his five minutes. Jordan is the Republican attack dog who was specifically placed on the committee to growl and snarl in consummate fashion, of course. But because he is the lowest Republican on the seniority ladder in the committee, he is always the last Republican to speak. Schiff made his time even more obscure by calling a second break right before it began.

Schiff also was putting up with absolutely zero nonsense from the Republicans this time around, too. Using his powers as chairman, he shut down several attempts by Republicans to hijack the hearings with their whiny complaints about the process. The best of these came near the beginning, when Devin Nunes was first given a chance to ask questions. Nunes tried to yield to one of his party's members, but Schiff shot this down by pointing out this was not allowed by the rules -- Nunes could only yield to the Republican counsel during the initial 45-minute segment. Which he knew, full well, despite his Oscar-worthy performance expressing his faux surprise and outrage. This wasn't even the first time Nunes tried to divert attention, but Schiff had already shut down all earlier efforts as well.

In short, Schiff runs the committee with an iron backbone, and throughout it all refuses to be baited by Republicans into any sort of personal shouting match. Such is the power of being in the majority and chairing the committee.

Schiff wields that power well, occasionally breaking in to clarify that the point the Republicans just made is either: false, completely out of context, a conspiracy theory, or just generally insane. This allows all the other Democrats on the committee to focus on their own questions rather than having to play defense against the GOP talking points. While in Wednesday's hearing Schiff allowed the Republicans more parliamentary rope, today he had quite obviously had enough of their nonsense and shut them down before it even got started.

Adam Schiff is about as levelheaded and unflappable as any politician I've ever seen. He refuses to get in playground arguments, he refuses to ever be fazed by the nasty names Republicans call him, and he remains the sober and serious face of the Democrats on the committee with aplomb. He is, in a word, an absolute rock of stability.

There really was no other choice for this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week, in fact. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff was the obvious choice, for very obvious reasons. We look forward to his continued handling of these historic hearings, after showing an extraordinary amount of control and leadership in the first week.

[Congratulate House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff on his official House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

 

Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

OK, we're going to be quick here because this is the one subject that isn't related to the impeachment inquiry. This past week, both Deval Patrick and Michael Bloomberg decided that the problem with the Democratic primary contest was that it just didn't have enough people running.

Seriously? Having 27 different candidates isn't enough? Really?!?

Sigh.

Wall Street seems to be getting increasingly nervous about Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren actually, you know, reflecting the will of the Democratic electorate by winning the nomination. So Bloomberg and Patrick were drafted to ride in on their white chargers to save the day? What is this, the revolt of the billionaires?

We don't know about anyone else, but the entry into the race of the 28th and (possibly) 29th candidate was more than a little tiresome, which is why we're giving both of them the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

[Both Michael Bloomberg and Deval Patrick are private citizens, and it is our blanket policy not to link to campaign websites, so you'll have to seek their contact info out for yourself if you'd like to let them know what you think of their candidacies.]

 

Friday Talking Points

Volume 551 (11/15/19)

As with most of the rest of this column, our weekly talking points are all on the same theme. Part of any impeachment is the battle for public opinion, and Trump and the Republicans have been doing their best to win this fight. To date, they haven't been very successful, but that doesn't mean Democrats don't need to also make their case in the court of public opinion. So all our talking points this week are geared towards making that case.

We must admit that while writing this, the phrase "Masha, Masha, Masha!" did kind of leap to mind, but in the end we felt the seriousness of the situation precluded any reference to The Brady Bunch, so we'll leave those jokes to others. Ahem.

That's enough introduction, let's just get on with the talking points, shall we?

 

1
   When you figure out what you want, let the rest of us know...

The Republican response has been rather peripatetic, to date. So point it out!

"It seems that the Republicans just aren't happy about anything, no matter what Democrats do. They said they wanted a House vote, we gave them a House vote. They didn't noticeably stop calling the impeachment 'illegitimate.' They demanded public hearings, and now -- in those very public hearings themselves -- they complain that public hearings are somehow undignified. President Trump even went on record saying there should be no public hearings, after demanding public hearings for weeks on end. They demanded the transcripts be released, and decried the 'secret hearings,' so we made the transcripts public. They now complain we aren't doing so fast enough. They loudly complain that public hearings are nothing more than a media circus, and then they themselves perform as an elephant act in center ring -- showing off all their tricks to the crowd, while Democrats conduct serious and sober hearings. So to the Republicans who just can't get their victimhood complaints straight, I say: when you figure out what you really want, please let the rest of us know."

 

2
   Who is grandstanding?

In the same vein...

"Republicans begin each hearing stating that Democrats are doing nothing but playing for the cameras and grandstanding. But when the questioning starts, it's pretty plain which side is actually playing to the cameras, and which side is trying to uncover the truth. Republicans play parliamentary games and openly try to break the committee's rules, and when that doesn't work they loudly shout and pound the table. So it's pretty easy to see which side is playing to the television audience, although in the Republicans' case, this is playing to a television audience of one man only. Because we all know Trump doesn't believe anything is real unless he sees it on the teevee."

 

3
   So it's to be open season?

Democrats should remind Republicans every once in a while just precisely what the GOP is fighting so hard for.

"You do realize that in taking the position you have been that you are arguing that all of this behavior is perfectly acceptable for any president, don't you? I mean, if it's OK for Trump to use taxpayer dollars to leverage dirt against his political opponents in a presidential campaign from a foreign government, then that will mean that all presidents -- Democrats included -- will be able to do so with impunity from now on. What you are arguing is that Barack Obama should have gone to every country on Earth where Donald Trump owns properties and demanded dirt on the Trumps -- and he should also have withheld foreign aid to achieve this goal. Because that is the standard you are arguing to set. If Trump's precedent stands, then President Elizabeth Warren or President Bernie Sanders should also be allowed to do these things with impunity. Of course, Democrats are arguing that no president should be allowed to do this stuff, but you are staking your position out that all presidents should be able to. Just don't complain when it turns around and bites you in the hindquarters, please."

 

4
   Rudy didn't go rogue

Let's just head this one off at the pass, shall we?

"I see that some Republicans are already arguing that Rudy Giuliani should be nominated as the fall guy for this whole sordid episode, as they argue that he took it upon himself to do all this stuff without any direction from Trump. It was all Rudy's fault, you see, so let's throw him under the bus and move on. This is downright laughable. Rudy did not go rogue. Far from it. He did exactly what his client instructed him to do. He never made a move without Trump's express approval. So let's just nip the idea that somehow this is all Rudy's fault right in the bud, because such a notion is no more than a bad joke. Trump went rogue, not Rudy."

 

5
   Who was fighting corruption?

Hit this one hard.

"Republicans are trying mightily to convince everyone that up is down and black is white. Their conspiracy theory is that the Ukrainian prosecutor was fired for not going after Hunter Biden, when in fact the exact opposite was true. The guy wasn't going after any corruption, real or imagined, because he himself was corrupt. Period. That's why he was removed from office, in fact. For not fighting corruption. This is the guy Trump personally praised on that infamous phone call, showing that Trump also had no interest whatsoever in fighting corruption. As the witness today pointed out, launching politically-motivated investigations is actually exactly what we are trying to convince Ukraine not to do any more, because this is a bad holdover from the Soviet era. So to try and force them to open a politically-motivated investigation for Trump's benefit is the exact opposite of fighting Ukrainian corruption."

 

6
   Mister Corruption-Fighter? Hardly.

And then bring it home to Trump.

"Excuse me, but in what universe is Donald Trump the great corruption-fighter? That's the cover story Republicans are hiding behind -- that Trump was some sort of corruption-fighting superhero. This is absurd. Can any Republican name me one single instance of Trump trying to fight corruption in Ukraine that didn't have anything to do with Hillary Clinton or the Bidens? They can't, because there aren't any such examples. Trump didn't even use the word "corruption" in either of his phone calls to the Ukrainian leader, in fact. I'll go even further -- if any Republican can name me just one single instance of Trump fighting any sort of corruption in any country on the planet, then I will sit down in front of the cameras and eat my hat. But I'm not too worried about doing so, because such examples just do not exist."

 

7
   Trump doesn't fight the corrupt, he hires them

Guilty, guilty, guilty!

"I'm afraid I've lost track of how many people worked either on Trump's campaign or for his administration who are now living behind bars in a federal prison. Just today, one more was added to this growing list, as Roger Stone was found guilty on every single charge that came out of the Mueller investigation. He was found guilty of lying to Congress and intimidating witnesses. He's been Trump's buddy for decades, so it'll be hard for Trump to spin this as some sort of guy who maybe got coffee for him, once. Maybe Trump is indeed a great finder of corruption, but the only problem with this idea is that when Trump does find someone who is corrupt, his first inclination is to hire them to work for him."

-- Chris Weigant

 

All-time award winners leaderboard, by rank
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground