Loyalty on demand
The second-ranking Democratic leader in the Senate, Dick Durbin of Illinois, was sizing up the chances that his party can get enough Republicans to see some things its way on rules for an impeachment trial. He didn't sound optimistic.
"If four Republican senators step up, it could make a big difference," Durbin said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." But it's not the math of the 53-member GOP majority that's the most daunting. "They tell me the political circumstances now in the Republican caucus are really extreme in terms of this loyalty to the president no matter what," Durbin said.
Donald Trump is facing impeachment and wearing a political coat of armor built on total loyalty from GOP activists and their representatives in Congress, The New York Times writes. Those who do not admire him still fear him. The incentives that shape political behavior — with voters, donors and media — compel Republicans to bow down if they want to survive.
“He has a complete connection with the average Republican voter and that’s given him political power here,” Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) told the Times. “Trump has touched the nerve of my conservative base like no person in my lifetime.” The impeachment by House Democrats, Trump tells them, means "they’re not after me. They’re after you."
Trump's boast that impeachment will help him whip up anger from his base to win reelection won't be tested until November, but his campaign's money is in sync with his mouth. Axios reports that more than 99% of Trump TV ads this year — $4.4 million worth — discussed impeachment, as tallied by the nonpartisan Wesleyan Media Project.
On Sunday talk shows and elsewhere, Democrats argued the merits of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's call for a Senate trial with rules that will include witnesses. "The Senate is yearning to give President Trump due process, which means that documents and witnesses should come forward … What is a trial with no witnesses and no documents? It’s a sham trial,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, said of Pelosi: “If her case is so airtight … why does she need more witnesses to make her case?" Short predicted that in a test of wills with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Pelosi “will yield, there's no way she can hold this position.” For more on the standoff, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez and Ted Phillips.
Democrats say a newly revealed email may add circumstantial evidence to their case that $391 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine was frozen to pressure its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to launch investigations Trump wanted of his political foes.
The email obtained by the Center for Public Integrity shows Michael Duffey, a top official at the Office of Management and Budget, informed the Pentagon of the freeze just 91 minutes after Trump's July 25 phone call with Zelensky. Duffey also advised the recipients to keep quiet about the order with those not involved in carrying it out, "given the sensitive nature of the request."
Schumer called the content of Duffey's email "rather explosive" and tweeted that "if there was ever an argument that we need Duffey and others to testify & we need the documents we requested — this is it."
Short said the timing was just a coincidence.
Trump: Vlad vouches for me
Trump rips Pelosi for plenty. But when she has charged, even to his face, that "all roads lead to Putin” with this president, he hasn't specifically rebutted her. It seems that Trump doesn't see much wrong with that notion.
It's as if Trump finds scant difference between Putin and his allies in the right-wing commentariat and Congress who get retweets when they praise or defend him.
Janison: Russia warming
Newsday's Dan Janison writes that while caricatures of Trump as a "Russian asset" can get out of hand, one need not cling to a Cold War view of the Kremlin to find the public-private relationship between Putin and Trump more than a little strange.
For a while, U.S. policy under Trump maintained a hard edge against Russia even as he came off as a Putin admirer. But more recently, Trump has aligned with Putin on several fronts.
In Venezuela, Putin ally Nicolas Maduro remains in office and the Trump administration seems to have lost interest in the crisis there. In France, Trump said he wanted Russia returned to the G-7, from which it was booted after seizing Crimea. In Syria, the recent U.S. troop pullout was widely seen as strengthening Russia's hand in the region.
Putin privately promoted the Ukraine election conspiracy theories to Trump to deflect from Russia's 2016 role and found a receptive audience, The Washington Post reported.
Making America grape
Elizabeth Warren spilled scorn on rival Pete Buttigieg in last Thursday's Democratic debate for attending a high-dollar fundraiser in a "wine cave" in California's Napa Valley. "Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States,” Warren said.
Defenders of Buttigieg said it's not a subject on which Warren should cask the first stone. The Associated Press reports that in June 2018, as Warren was running for reelection to the Senate, she held a fundraiser at City Winery Boston. Donors of $1,000 or more got a souvenir bottle of wine. For maximum donors of $2,700 a person or for $5,400 a couple, there was premium seating and a VIP photo reception.
Warren said she's now sworn off such events for her 2020 campaign because "I saw how the system worked, and I decided when I got into the presidential race that I wanted to do better than that.”
What else is happening:
- The Democrats' last presidential debate before the Iowa caucuses is scheduled for Jan. 14, a potential conflict for candidates who are senators and would have to attend an impeachment trial. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said: “If that day doesn’t work, there’s plenty of other days … But we have to have an Iowa debate.” See Newsday's story by Scott Eidler.
- Trump's evangelical supporters are rallying around him after an editorial in Christianity Today called for his removal. A letter by more than 100 to the magazine's editor-in-chief, Mark Galli, that “your editorial offensively questioned the spiritual integrity and Christian witness of tens-of-millions of believers."
- Former national security adviser John Bolton suggested in an Axios interview that the Trump administration is bluffing about stopping North Korea's nuclear ambitions — and might soon need to admit publicly that its policy failed badly. Kim Jong Un has threatened a Christmastime provocation.
- Twenty-five Jewish Democratic members of Congress called on Trump to remove Stephen Miller, the top adviser on immigration policy, based on leaked emails that showed he promoted stories from white nationalist and fringe media organizations, CNN reported.
- One in four federal circuit court judges are now Trump nominees, indicating his conservative stamp on the judiciary will last long after he leaves office, The Washington Post reported.