The Week of Saturday, January 25 through Friday, January 31, 2020 [#28]
The Week’s Most Notable:
There was a pivotal moment in the impeachment trial and quite possibly in American history. Senate Republicans voted to disallow witnesses and new documents for the first time in all federal impeachment trials, including for judges. Regardless of numerous polls showing that 70% to 80% of Americans wanted witnesses and documents, and the lack of a credible fig leaf to cover the naked power-play, Republicans chose a closely calculated political risk. Faced with either a protracted trial with potentially very damaging testimony and evidence against the president, or taking the hits from charges of coverup, they chose the whitewash. The vote also plowed the road for Trump’s acquittal next week. From now until the November election it will be the “exoneration crusade” vs “coverup and corruption.” May the best meme win.
Saturday, January 25
[Impeachment] Senate Trial: Trump Defense Opening – The abbreviated Saturday session staked out the argument not only of Trump’s innocence but of the illegitimacy of impeachment.
[Ukraine Scandal] Trump “Get rid of her!” Recording Surfaces – The full 90-minute recording provided by Lev Parnas documents Trump at a 2018 dinner where Ambassador Yovanovitch was dissed and he repeatedly called for her removal, just as Parnas claimed during interviews. Trump continues to maintain that he has no knowledge of Parnas.
[Iraq] Major Anti-U.S. Demonstrations in Baghdad – Tens of thousands marched through the streets in protest of General Soleimani’s and Iraqi commanders’ assassinations and the continued presence of American troops in Iraq. Protests and small-scale rocket attacks will be frequent while the U.S., Iraq, and Iran dance around a U.S. withdrawal.
[Media] Pompeo Doubles-Down on Upbraiding NPR Reporter – Apparently Pompeo was incensed by NPR host Mary Louise Kelly asking a question about Ukraine. He demanded that she find Ukraine on a blank map. She did (as a graduate of Harvard with a Masters in European studies at Cambridge ought to). She had also received permission by email to discuss Ukraine issues. Was Pompeo genuinely peeved or was this a staged outrage à la Sen. McSally’s blowup at CNN? At least it was a fine distraction much to Trump’s liking, “You did a good job on her.”
[Veterans] VFW Criticizes Trump for “Headache” Remarks – Not long ago, to cover up the seriousness of the Iranian ballistic missile attack on Iraqi/US bases, Trump first said there were no injuries, then backtracked to say some soldiers had headaches. The latest admission by the Pentagon is that 50 soldiers suffered potential traumatic brain injury from concussion. The VFW conveyed its anger at the presidential minimizing of serious injuries.
Sunday, January 26
[Impeachment] Bolton Book Excerpt Implicates Trump – Can a bombshell be unsurprising? According to Bolton, Trump directly told him he was withholding military aid to Ukraine until it investigated Biden. For months Trump’s defenders contended there were no direct witnesses to an admission of quid pro quo; apparently there was. Will the Senate allow Bolton to testify? Apparently not.
[Kobe Bryant] Kobe Bryant and Daughter Killed in Helicopter Crash – It could be the moment we’re in, but the worldwide shock seems appropriate at the death of a larger-than-life sports figure.
Monday, January 27
[Coronavirus] Global Markets Drop on Coronavirus Fears – It may be more a sign of global economic weakness than a harbinger of a true pandemic, but the bearish market reactions emphasized skittishness about the potential impact on economies, especially China’s.
[Impeachment Trial] Trump Lawyers Resume Defense – The central argument remains that Trump did nothing wrong, committed no crime, and did not harm the national governance; therefore, the impeachment process is illegitimate. In short, this was the absolutist line of argument frequently advanced by Trump.
[Immigration] Supreme Court Allows Restricting Underfunded Immigrants – In a typical partyline 5-4 decision, the court allowed the administration’s “public charge rule” to take effect. Scratch “Give me your tired, your poor . . . ” from Liberty’s inscription.
Tuesday, January 28
[Middle East] Trump Unveils Middle East Peace Plan – Israel applauds. Palestinians (who?) were not included in the peace plan. Jared Kushner’s brainchild was almost universally pronounced DOA.
[Impeachment Trial] Trump Defense Team Finishes Opening Arguments – The ultimate process argument is to make impeachment itself the center of defense. For the most part Trump lawyers ignored the Ukraine story, the witnesses, the evidence, and the context. All that mattered was to say in as many ways possible that the impeachment process itself was illegitimate, nay, unconstitutional. So they dismissed Bolton as a potential witness, saying he would be “irrelevant.”
[U.S. Budget Deficit] CBO Projects $1.02 Trillion Deficit for 2020 – Such a deficit during a period of relative economic prosperity is unprecedented. Thank Trump and Republicans for the 2017 tax law.
Wednesday, January 29
[Impeachment Trial] Trial Enters Question and Answer Phase – The back-and-forth was at times fascinating, although few had the time to follow it. On the whole, the Republican defense was frequently an exercise in sophistry, with reasoning that had more holes than Swiss cheese. One blooper was outstanding: Dershowitz said, “Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest, and if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.” In other words, when a president thinks getting reelected is in the public interest, nothing he does is impeachable. On such beliefs, dictators thrive.
[USMCA] Trump Signs USMCA as the Replacement for NAFTA – No Democrats were invited to the signing, perhaps because they were responsible for important changes to the original USMCA draft.
[Impeachment Trial] Weird Moment: Roberts Stifles Attempt to Name Ukraine Whistleblower – Senator Rand Paul tried to sneak this by as a question in the Q&A. Good thing the Chief Justice didn’t let it go through, he might’ve had to charge Paul with a crime. Next day, Paul said the name in a press conference. [The name is still a right-wing conceit, unverified and non-grata.] And Paul’s not arrested.
Thursday, January 30[Coronavirus] WHO Calls Coronavirus a Global Health Emergency – Culminating several weeks of mounting concern about this strain of virus, the World Health Organization decided to up the worldwide alert, based more on the potential than on the current actual spread. For perspective, remember that in the U.S. alone routine flu affects 9-45,000,000 people and kills 12-61,000 each year.
[Impeachment Trial] Senate Finishes Q&A Phase – The second day devolved into considerable repetition and did not generate many worthy soundbites. Most attention was off-court and given to the upcoming vote on witnesses likely to happen Friday. Although two days ago McConnell squeaked about not having the votes to prohibit witnesses and documents, somehow, magically, he had enough votes by Thursday evening. This is a familiar pattern, for example, the Senate vote on the Anti-Affordable Care Act in 2017. It’s all part of McConnell’s procedural rope-a-dope.
[Iran] House Votes to Limit Trump Military Authority for Iran – There are two bills going to the Senate where nothing will happen until after the trial and probably not then either.
Friday, January 31
[Impeachment] No New Witnesses, No New Documents – The Senate vote to quash new witnesses and documents went as expected; 51 to 49. Without the attention-grabbing drama of new witnesses such as Bolton, Mulvaney, or Parnas, and the inability to introduce striking new evidence, the Democrats lost the ability to directly tarnish Trump’s “exoneration.” He will walk away with acquittal and the open path to say he won everything. Democrats are able to say it was an unfair trial and an unvarnished cover-up; this has some potential if prominently carried into the election.
[Brexit] UK Officially Starts Transition to Leave the EU – “Brexit Day” was marked by a few events. It will be a year or more before the effects – and the terms of withdrawal – will begin to become clear. At this point there are more bad feelings than there are answers to questions about what happens next.
[Medicaid] Trump Administration to Overhaul Medicaid – The broad announcement signaled the beginning of a concerted attempt to push Medicaid control to the states, which can set caps and limits on Medicaid support. The upshot will be the loss of certain kinds of healthcare for millions of the poorest and least healthy people. It will be fought in court and at the ballot box.
[Environment] Trump Administration Proposes to Accelerate Killing of Birds – The headline is not an overstatement. The rollback of regulations erases the ability to punish companies or farms for “incidentally” killing birds while using chemicals, construction, pesticides, or other physical means such as windmills. Recall that only a month ago it was reported that the Western Hemisphere has lost nearly 25% of its bird population since 1970.
[Travel Ban] Trump Administration to Propose Expansion of Travel Ban – Banning Muslims is still high on Trump’s list. Despite the controversy of previous bans on travel from various Muslim countries, six more are on the expansion list: Belarus, Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, and Tanzania. This potentially affects about 315 million people.
They Said, We Said. Even for those whose job it is to disentangle the arguments, it was difficult to find contiguous threads of logic, accuracy, or even counterpoint in the president’s defense. But then, as McConnell deliberately intended, few people listened – preferring instead to have the several days of arguments summarized by their favorite pundits. Consequently, about 40% of voters think Trump should never have been impeached, and about 60% of voters are incensed that he won’t be convicted.
Having squandered control of the narrative concerning withholding articles of impeachment*, the disappointment of no chance to introduce new witnesses and documents and, of course, the predicted acquittal, are the Democrats in Congress ready to come out fighting? Maybe, if they can figure out what “fighting mode” means and how to actually do it. It might mean issuing aggressive House committee subpoenas to Bolton, Mulvaney, et al. It could be mapping out new investigations based on court rulings and other events. It might even mean opening another round of impeachment proceedings. Problem is, any approach needs to be coordinated with a presidential campaign (before and after primaries) and, above all, sold to the public. Any approach will require out-of-the-box PR/propaganda on a level that at least matches, but without the lies, Trump/GOP efforts. Such media savvy is not a proven skill for the Democrats. (BTW: they also have to find the money.)
*Some believe, as I do, that there was a radical but feasible move to not deliver articles of impeachment until McConnell agreed to a fair trial (witnesses and documents) or not. Other than “disruption of the election campaigns,” and “It’s not normal” I’ve yet to hear any definitive reason for not withholding articles indefinitely. Of course, it’s an aggressive move for Democrats and would have required a major PR campaign to bring public opinion along; but then McConnell was able to do something like this with the Merrick Garland Supreme Court appointment – just because he could.
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are passingly familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search (Google it).]
Quote of the Week
“Get rid of her. Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Do it.”
Our president, overheard on video released by PBS, Jan. 25, 2020.