The Trailer: What Democratic Congress members are hearing about impeachment

In this edition: Why “impeachment summer” is going so slowly, how a recession could affect the primary, and the persistence of “Pocahontas.”

After today, the newsletter is taking a very brief vacation, with no edition this Sunday. We’ll return on Tuesday. Until then, you can scratch your newsletter itch with Power Up, The Daily 202, and a whole lot more.

Rep. Andy Kim of New Jersey opened the floor of his Burlington town hall to questions, and there it was: the “I-word.”

“Because of your knowledge and commitment to the Constitution and to the Congress’s job of oversight,” asked Georganne D’Angelo, 69, “how do you feel about impeachment?”

“Right out of the box,” said Russell Oliva, another constituent, as the 50-odd people who’d come to see Kim on Wednesday night laughed.

Two years and three months earlier, not far from Burlington, then-Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur held a boisterous and overcrowded town hall where hundreds of constituents decried his role in the effort to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. Kim, an Obama administration veteran, had been among them. He’d gone on to unseat MacArthur by a handful of votes. Now, as a freshman congressman near the top of the GOP’s 2020 target list, Kim was dealing with a much smaller rebellion, entirely on his left, and fairly polite.

Halfway into Congress’s August recess, there is none of the drama, theatricality or mass organizing that marked similar periods in recent years. The crowds of conservative activists, whose 2009 organizing nearly killed the ACA, are gone. So are many of the liberals who packed town halls in 2017, halting the effort to repeal that law. “Impeachment summer,” the term some Democrats used to conjure up a month of boisterous confrontations between freshmen and liberal activists, has been quieter than they expected.

It’s not for lack of trying. There is an official “Impeachment August” campaign, organized by a coalition of 12 liberal groups. Two weeks are left in the campaign, and the activists have been showing up already, getting similar here-we-go reactions from members of Congress

“The big I-word, right?” said Rep. Colin Allred (Tex.), after getting an impeachment question toward the end of a town hall this week in Garland, Tex. “Everybody was waiting for this!”

The focus of “Impeachment August” is on the minority of House Democrats who have not endorsed impeachment proceedings yet, with a particular goal of getting the freshmen elected in swing districts to take a firm position. So far, no swing-seat Democrat who was skeptical about impeachment before the start of the recess has been converted. The two Democrats who have signed on since Congress scattered, Rep. Ro Khanna of California and Rep. David Price of North Carolina, represent deeply blue districts. Republicans have made do with video of the members of Congress bristling at the kind of questions they’re getting. 

“The liberal resistance turned on Antonio Delgado, and already he’s caving to their rabid demands,” said Calvin Moore, a spokesman for the conservative Congressional Leadership Fund, after the New York freshman told an audience that “everything’s on the table” and that he wanted to “allow the public to get through the muddiness here and see what happened.” At no point did Delgado actually endorse impeachment.

Neither did Kim, though he was urged to, repeatedly. Elizabeth Carpenter, 78, of Mt. Laurel, told him that she’d always considered herself a moderate but that Trump had pushed her to the limit.

“I want you to know you have my vote for impeachment,” Carpenter said.

Lynn Winkler, 66, of Mt. Laurel, told Kim that Trump was guilty of more than high crimes and misdemeanors.

“I’m with this woman,” she said, referring to Carpenter. “If you vote for impeachment, I’m right behind you. They impeached Clinton for lying about a blow job.”

Kim urged Carpenter and others to look at the slow-burn investigations of Trump that the House was already doing. That was the preferred messaging from leadership, and while it didn’t satisfy the critics in Burlington, it didn’t lead to a revolt.

“I swore an oath three times in my life to be able to protect and serve the Constitution,” Kim said. “The legislative branch has the power of the purse; it is able to declare war bill; it also has oversight responsibilities, like impeachment. These are all incredibly important, and it’s important that we do all of these things, and on the oversight side there are 29 different investigations moving forward.”

What’s missing from this town hall season, and what made previous Augusts so tense, is a sense of danger. The 2009 town halls represented conservative voters’ only chance to stop a Democratic Party-run Washington from pushing through its agenda. The 2017 town halls were a mirror image: a way for the “resistance” to put pressure on Republicans, who otherwise had the votes to repeal the ACA.

This August has comparatively low stakes. Nothing Democrats support can become law so long as Republicans control the White House and the Senate. Impeachment, as even some of its supporters admit, would probably involve a vote in the House and a Republican blockade in the Senate. The result of lower expectations, and of Democratic energy being directed more to presidential politics, has been a recess that’s calmer than much of the political drama going on around it.

Natalie Pompilio contributed reporting from Burlington.

READING LIST

“A goal for Democrats: Make the White House boring again,” by Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Ashley Parker

The appeal of a president who won’t turn every news cycle into a discussion of how he’s doing.

“The Republican running against Donald Trump took his message to the Iowa State Fair. Few listened,” by Rosie Gray

Bill Weld’s lonely quest for #NeverTrump voters.

“Evangelicals view Trump as their protector. Will they stand by him in 2020?” by Elizabeth Bruenig

A report from Texas on the resilience of Trump’s social conservative base.

“Biden jumped into damage control after upsetting Latino leaders,” by Marc Caputo and Natasha Korecki

The cleanup of an awkward phrasing (“get in line”) that resonates the wrong way with Latino voters.

“The poignant but complicated friendship of Joe Biden and Barack Obama,” by Steven Levingston

A deep look at Biden’s loyalty to his “brother,” who is staying neutral in the primary.

“Arguing the world,” by Walter Shapiro

An experienced campaign reporter’s look at how “the good ship Warren” righted itself.

DEMS IN DISARRAY

For much of this primary season, Democrats have wrestled with a common out-of-power party dilemma: how to persuade voters to dump a president when the economy is doing well. For at least one day this week, they started to entertain another possibility: If the economy showed signs of weakness, or even recession, how could they lose?

Wednesday’s shaky time on Wall Street got Democrats, and voters, talking about the possibility of an economic downturn. “I have been concerned about a recession for some time,” South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg told reporters in Iowa on Wednesday. “There’s a lot of factors in our economy that are destabilizing. The best thing we can do as a country is invest in our long-term competitiveness — to make sure we have good infrastructure, good schools, good health — so that our communities and our families can weather these kinds of economic cycles. We have gone such a long time without a recession that we may have forgotten how to get through one.”

The news fit right into the story line Elizabeth Warren had been advancing for weeks, that all the signs of a recession were there. “I see a manufacturing sector in recession,” she in a Medium post three weeks ago. “I see a precarious economy that is built on debt — both household debt and corporate debt — and that is vulnerable to shocks. And I see a number of serious shocks on the horizon that could cause our economy’s shaky foundation to crumble.” Warren got no questions about the economy at a town hall in Franconia, N.H., and neither did Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at his New Hampshire events. But the question is starting to get asked.

The Trump campaign sees all of this speculation as wishful thinking. “Just today we learned that retail sales climbed in July and productivity increased, meaning employers can increase paychecks without raising prices,” said Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh. “Democrats and the media are in the unenviable position of rooting for bad news because of their hatred of President Trump. Democrats would force us into big-government socialism, enact radical environmental regulations, eliminate private health insurance, open our borders, and raise taxes to pay for it all.”

While voters have consistently shown optimism about the economy, a majority have told pollsters that the country is on “the wrong track.” Trump, as a candidate, described good economic data as fraudulent — “our real unemployment is anywhere from 18 to 20 percent,” he insisted when he announced his candidacy, and when the official data pegged unemployment at 5.6 percent. Democrats have been doing something similar, describing the positive economic indicators as irrelevant to Americans’ precarious economic status. Joe Biden has insisted that “the backbone of this country, the middle class,” is in trouble; Kamala Harris (Calif.) has warned that most Americans are unable to pay a surprise $400 bill. 

How would voter worry about recession play in the primary? It’s unclear. This month’s national Quinnipiac poll, which found Biden leading Warren by 11 points, also found him up by 11 points when voters were asked which candidate was the “best leader.” But Warren led by 15 points when voters were asked which candidate had the “best ideas.” A recession, or Democratic speculation that a recession was coming, could reduce primary voters’ nervousness about which candidates were “electable,” or it could send them to the candidate with the most experience, or it could give an opening to a Warren (or Sanders) candidacy arguing that they had been right for years about the risks in the economy.

Why don’t we have more clarity? Because the two modern primaries that took place against the backdrop of a recession played out differently. In late 2007, while recession indicators were blaring, primary voters did not factor it into their vote.

“The economy really worsened late in the primary season, even though the signs were there,” remembered Obama strategist David Axelrod. “The war was paramount in the primary race. The economy really exploded as an issue in the fall with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The big battle with Hillary [Clinton] was not over whether he was capable of handling the economy, but the wars. She tried to disqualify him as commander in chief and, of course, that didn’t work.”

Sixteen years earlier, Democrats who had begun the primary season nervous about George H.W. Bush’s popularity grew increasingly confident about beating him; by June 1992, the end of the Democratic primaries, unemployment was at 7.8 percent. That helped Bill Clinton navigate a series of primaries where his momentum was blunted by scandals and scandal coverage.

AD WATCH

NRCC, “Dan McCready.” The first party committee’s spot in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District tries something different — a 30-second sketch, set in a voice-over studio, in which the V/O actor grows frustrated that none of his talking points sync up with the Democratic candidate’s record. It’s one in a series of party committee ads that have both accentuated the third-party messaging (Dan “McGreedy,” an attack on the political lobbying by his venture capital firm), and portrayed McCready as a media creation who will not seriously break with left-wing Democrats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is going on the air next.

Tom Steyer, “Trust the People.” The latest in a run of ads designed to boost Steyer’s poll numbers and secure a debate spot emphasizes his unique political pledges: “I’ll establish a national referendum to make your voice heard,” he says, “and term limits for Congress, to ensure politicians focus more on you than getting reelected.”

WHAT I’M WATCHING

The waning power of “Pocahontas.” Elizabeth Warren’s comeback over the past few months has been fueled by three factors: organization, potent liberal messaging and the fadeaway of the president’s favorite attack on her. In an interview with the New York Times, part of a story about the senator from Massachusetts battling the idea that she’s less electable than other Democrats, Warren responded “haltingly” to this question: “why, after pledging to a Native American group last year that she would always highlight their issues when her heritage is raised, she has quietly backed away from the commitment by typically remaining silent when Mr. Trump makes his attacks.”

Here’s the catch: After absorbing three years of insults from the president, most of them focused on her past claims of Native American ancestry, Warren has settled into a new position. She’s not being asked about the insults, because they’re not making news. In the past month, the president has deployed his “Pocahontas” insult against Warren three times. In the past, that insult had media outlets scrambling for a response from Warren. But more recently, the insult simply hasn’t made news.

Over the summer, the president has riffed on “Pocahontas” (an insult he adapted from the 2012 Senate campaign against Warren) not as a matter of substance, but as a reflection on how he probably tried to destroy Warren too early.

“I spoke too early on Elizabeth ‘Pocahontas’ Warren,” Trump said at the White House’s “social media summit” July 12, where he was addressing a friendly conservative crowd. “I should’ve saved it.” The quote did not make news, and coverage of the summit largely focused on a Rose Garden argument between a Playboy correspondent and former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka.

On Aug. 1, in a media gaggle, Trump went into more detail on why the attack should be effective, were Warren to be the Democratic nominee. “I’ve watched Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to as ‘Pocahontas,’ with her phony try at an ancestry that she didn’t have,” Trump said. “I’ve watched her and, I don’t know, to me, she doesn’t have credibility. It’s possible I’ll have to run against her. But everything she did was a fraud. She got into colleges, she got teaching jobs. She said she was of Indian heritage. It turned out to be a lie.”

The president’s specific claim was not true; as multiple investigations have found, over two runs for the Senate, Warren did not use her claim of Native American ancestry in any hiring process or college applications. But the comment was lost in coverage of Trump’s other remarks — his continuing insults of a “rat-infested” Baltimore.

Trump went back to the “Pocahontas” well Tuesday, veering off message with at a manufacturing event in Pennsylvania to assess Warren’s rise in the polls.

“I did it very early, with Pocahontas; I should have probably waited,” he said. “She’s staging a comeback on Sleepy Joe. I don’t know who’s going to win, but we’ll have to hit Pocahontas very hard again if she does win. But she’s staging a little bit of a comeback.”

Again, the remarks didn’t make news; Warren, on the trail in New Hampshire, got no questions about them. According to her campaign, just two of the questions she’s taken from voters since January have been about the Native American ancestry debacle. The last media questions about it came from the hosts of the Breakfast Club, on May 31. And though Warren has spent four and a half hours onstage at televised debates, moderators have not asked her about the Native American controversy. 

She did get a question about it this week, when she sat for an hour-long endorsement interview with the Working Families Party. Laurie Weahkee, the leader of the Native American Voters Alliance, told Warren that the “Pocahontas” attacks “resurfaced the racist and derogatory way that Native Americans have been portrayed” and that people needed convincing that Trump couldn’t just keep doing it.

“This isn’t just going to be me; it’s going to be anybody who’s involved in this process,” Warren said. “I know I’ve made mistakes. I have regrets. And I apologized for them. But I try every day to be a good partner. And to be a good partner means to talk about investment in tribal areas. It’s about making sure that Indian Country is represented at the table when we talk about putting policies together.”

Warren continued with plans to tackle “high suicide rates” in “ways that are culturally appropriate” and to invest in Indian housing and Native American colleges. It was a preview of how she might tackle the issue when it rises to a higher profile: Monday’s Native American issues forum in Sioux City, Iowa, where seven other Democrats, without this history, will also be bidding for votes.

POLL WATCH

Do you favor this proposal to combat gun violence? (Fox News, 1,013 registered voters)

Universal background checks — 90%
Temporary gun confiscation — 81%
Ban assault rifles — 67%

A national poll that shows the president’s negative numbers spiking again also shows every Democratic or liberal gun-control idea with supermajority support. Universal background checks enjoyed similar public backing in 2013, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre; the support for an “assault weapons” ban is higher than it has been since this particular poll began.

IN THE STATES

The short, 21-day runoff in Mississippi’s Republican gubernatorial primary is turning over an issue that didn’t used to be complicated for the GOP: the Affordable Care Act.

Lt. Gov Tate Reeves, who fell just a few thousand votes short of a primary win last week, is dead set against taking the Medicaid expansion money offered by the ACA and made optional by a 2012 Supreme Court ruling. Retired judge Bill Waller Jr., his opponent, has said he would take the money and implement Medicaid reform. 

“We’ve got to stand up and be pragmatic, like Mike Pence did in Indiana, or we’re going to see a lot of hospitals close,” Waller said at the Neshoba County Fair two weeks ago, referring to how Pence, as governor of Indiana, accepted the money. “Who thinks Mike Pence is a liberal? Anybody? Mike Pence pioneered this in Indiana. Thirty-seven states have done Medicare reform. And I think that’s what we should do.”

Reeves has been adamant: Accepting that money means accepting one of President Barack Obama’s damaging left-wing policies. In a tweet this week, he mocked Waller for saying the state had to be ready to accept the Medicaid money even as a team of Republican attorneys general were trying to kill the ACA with lawsuits, contrasting it with “the odds on D-Day.”

“I don’t think caving on Obamacare is comparable to the D-Day landings,” Reeves chortled. At the county fair, he’d gone further: “I think it’s a bad idea to put more people on public assistance. I think it’s a bad idea to pursue a policy that dumps people off private insurance and puts them on government insurance. I am standing before you as the only candidate running for governor that opposes Obamacare expansion in Mississippi.”

2020

And then there were 23. John Hickenlooper, the former Colorado governor who’d been tapped as a national Democratic candidate for years, ended his campaign Thursday. He had been in the race for just five months and spent much of that time explaining why he wasn’t breaking through.

“This journey has been more exciting and more rewarding than I ever imagined,” Hickenlooper said in a video posted at 11 a.m. Colorado time. “Of course, I did imagine a different conclusion.”

Hickenlooper, 67, presented himself as the candidate who had “done what all these other people are talking about,” pointing to his record as a two-term governor and popular Denver mayor. He had presided over divided government, unified Democratic government, and two very different, nationally watched stories — a massacre in a suburban movie theater and the implementation of legal, recreational marijuana sales.

But Hickenlooper was among several moderate Democrats who struggled when Joe Biden held onto a strong base of moderate voters; rivals who expected the former vice president’s support to spill off have been perpetually disappointed. Hickenlooper’s avuncular, “accidental politician” style (he suffers from “face blindness”) did him no favors in a dynamic field; in July, he appeared at the same Latino voter meeting that Julián Castro had one day earlier, speaking to one-tenth as many people.

Hickenlooper also made a strategic blunder halfway through his campaign, using his time at the California Democratic convention to warn Democrats that “socialism is not the answer” in a presidential election. That strategy grew out of a small but widely noticed stumble, when Hickenlooper rejected the premise of a question asking whether he was a “capitalist” or a “socialist” and was surprised to find how someone whose entire political career grew out of business success could be accused of caving to “socialists.”

In his exit video, Hickenlooper confirmed he was giving “serious thought” to a Senate bid. Speaking of which …

Beto O’Rourke. He reentered the presidential race with a speech in El Paso, where he promised to take his fight to places negatively affected by the president’s decisions. “There have even been some who have suggested that I stay in Texas and run for Senate, but that would not be good enough. … We must take the fight directly to the source of this problem …”

Joe Biden. He has no public events scheduled until Tuesday, when he returns to Iowa; while he’ll raise money over the weekend, this will amount to a 10-day stretch off the trail.

Elizabeth Warren. She told reporters in New Hampshire that she stood by her take on the shooting death of Michael Brown, after falsely claiming that the police confrontation that ended Brown’s life was “murder.” 

Andrew Yang. He celebrated his 200,000th individual donation, which could ease his path into Democratic debates after October, when the party may again update its qualifications for getting onstage.

Cory Booker. He has proposed the creation of new standards for tracking white supremacy and hate crimes.

Bernie Sanders. He has scheduled the latest of his “grass-roots fundraisers” for Minnesota on Aug. 24, five days after a Warren town hall in the state; that’s the most that rival candidates have stumped in another candidate’s state, outside of donor-rich California and Texas.

Kamala Harris. She scored the endorsement of Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, putting her far ahead of the field in support from black members of Congress.

COUNTDOWN

… 12 days until the Mississippi GOP gubernatorial primary runoff
… 26 days until the special congressional elections in North Carolina
… 58 days until the Louisiana gubernatorial election

Leave a Comment