“Right matters. And the truth matters. Otherwise we are lost.”
All seven of the House managers prosecuting the abuse of power and obstruction of Congress charges against Donald Trump in the Senate last week rose to the occasion.
But Adam Schiff ascended to another level of mastery. Hour after hour, day after day, he told a complex story with clarity, precision, passion, and eloquence.
He called on Republican senators to find the moral courage to defend the founding ideals of a nation created in revolt from a would-be tyrant, and later bound together by a Constitution that’s about nothing if not about checking abuses of power by a president aspiring to be a king.
But all 53 GOP senators in the chamber seemed to have heard by week’s end was a line Schiff quoted from a news report that Trump was threatening revenge on Republicans who crossed him: “CBS News reported last night that a Trump confidant said that key senators were warned, ‘Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.’”
Republican senators reacted immediately with feigned outrage, denying anything like it happened. Sen. Susan Collins repeatedly said “Not true!” while shaking her head, prompting Schiff to say he hoped it wasn’t.
“He was doing fine with moral courage until he got to the head on the pike,” said Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowksi. “That’s where he lost me.” Her comments were echoed by GOP colleagues who claimed to be insulted at what they called Schiff’s unflattering suggestion they might vote to acquit Trump based on anything but the noblest of motives.
Later, Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma told reporters he reacted with “visible outrage” to Schiff’s language, an odd thing for a human to say, and a likely tell of the performative nature of his outward-facing fury.
Of course, “your head will be on a pike” — language that wasn’t refuted when first broadcast, and CBS stood by — is just a colorful way to communicate to Republican senators they’ll suffer Trump’s wrath if they don’t back him. Just like other GOP apostates and semi-apostates such as ex-Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake. And soon-to-be ex-Rep. Justin Amash, who was exiled from the party after voting to impeach Trump and is likely to lose re-election in the fall.
This is a familiar tactic Republicans use to get off the hook for votes they can’t otherwise justify. They head straight for what Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse called “the outrage offramp.”
It’s rich to hear the “fuck-your-feelings” party basically say, “We were prepared to stand up for the Constitution and rule of law until Adam Schiff hurt our fee fees,” even as they continue to play their usual hardball to jam through Trump’s acquittal.
Republicans told Robert Mueller that Presidents can’t be indicted and can only be held accountable for abuses of power by Congress through the impeachment process.
Now they’re telling Congress Presidents can’t be impeached for abuses of power.
Trump blocked officials with first-hand knowledge of his crimes from testifying before Congress, and refused to let his subordinates hand over incriminating documents.
Now, he and the GOP argue (falsely) there’s no first-hand evidence of wrongdoing.
Republicans also argue that Democrats can’t at the same time say they’ve proven their case and need to call more witnesses.
Not true. The House managers presented an overwhelming case proving Trump is guilty of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
They also know — if only because Trump said so in public this week! — that his ongoing obstruction is keeping a warehouse of smoking guns from Congress and the public.
In any court of law, the defendant would already be guilty enough and it would be done with.
But in any court of law, the judges deciding what evidence the jury can see wouldn’t also be the jury, and the judge-jury wouldn’t be coordinating with the defendant to keep out evidence even bad-faith actors like GOP senators couldn’t dismiss or ignore.
The good news is that Republican lying and spin simply isn’t working beyond Trump’s base, which surely adds to their frustration.
A FOX NEWS poll out today reports that 50% of Americans support Trump’s removal from office, versus 44% who oppose it. Ominously for Republicans, Independents support Trump’s removal by a 19-point margin, 53% to 34%.
These numbers are virtually identical to the results of polls from CNN and Pew Research. Pew also reported that 53% of college educated whites support removing Trump from office. This is a scary number for the GOP. College-educated whites traditionally have voted Republican. But they’ve fled the GOP in increasing numbers in 2016, 2018, and 2019. That number looks likely to increase in 2020.
And shocking and hard to process as it may be, the Democrats, led by Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Adam Schiff, are also playing hardball. They’ve never been under any illusion this Senate would acquit Trump. They know, as Upton Sinclair once wrote, “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
But the Democrats have gamed this out to make the Republicans pay in the fall.
Late on the trial’s first day, Republicans sighed and groaned at yet another proposed Democratic resolution to get evidence admitted into the trial.
Schiff took the floor and said: “Yeah, we’re making it hard for you… We’re making it hard for you to say, ‘I don’t want to hear from these people, I don’t want to see these documents.’ We’re making it hard. It’s not our job to make it easier for you. It’s our job to make it hard to deprive the American people of a fair trial.”
The Republicans are frustrated Democrats are denying them plausible deniability of Trump’s corruption and criminality.
But they’re furious Democrats are denying them plausible deniability of their own cowardice and complicity. Their votes to acquit and cover-up for Trump will be hung on their necks in the summer and fall as more and more evidence inevitably surfaces.
But thanks to the Democrats’ tenacity and brilliance, the salaries of Republican senators up for re-election in swing states in the fall are at even-graver risk. Those men and women won’t be able to say they didn’t know what happened. And what’s still happening.
As Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York told them last week, quoting Notorious B.I.G., “If you didn’t know now you know.”
POLLS POLLS POLLS With just over a week to go until the Iowa caucuses, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are pulling away from the rest of the Democratic field. But fresh polling in Iowa paints an unclear picture of which septuagenarian leads there. A new CBS NEWS poll puts them neck and neck, with Buttigieg close behind and Elizabeth Warren trailing at 15%.
Warren’s number is important because candidates who don’t reach 15% support in the first round of caucusing are eliminated, and their supporters are released to support other candidates in the next round. But she won the coveted endorsement of the Des Moines Register this weekend. And if history is any guide that should boost her comfortably past the 15% threshold, if not to victory.
A USA TODAY poll out today gives Biden a more comfortable lead with support of 25% of likely Democratic caucus-goers, followed by Sanders at 19%, Buttigieg at 18%, and Warren at 13%. But another 13% said they were undecided, and 45% of those who expressed support for a candidate said they could still change their minds. Biden maintains his lead in this poll because he leads on the number one issue of Iowa caucus-goers: defeating Trump. Interestingly, 57%-31% of those surveyed said that “in their gut” they thought Trump would lose.
Meanwhile, a NEW YORK TIMES poll out this weekend shows stronger support for Bernie in Iowa. He’s up six points there since the last big Times poll in late October, largely at the expense of Warren. She’s dropped seven points while Biden has held steady.
Nate Silver’s Iowa polling averages have Biden and Sanders in a virtual tie at 22.7% and 22.0%, respectively, Buttigieg at 18.5% and Warren at 14.8%
In New Hampshire, two new polls out Sunday put Sanders up by 5 points and 9 points among likely voters. Silver has Sanders at 21.7%, Biden at 16.7%, Buttigieg 14.5% and Warren at 13.1% in his polling averages. Those aren’t great numbers for Bernie and are horrible numbers for Warren. Both represent bordering states. And Bernie needs bigger margins in Iowa and New Hampshire to show he can make up for his big deficits on Super Tuesday in the south, and among Black voters nationwide.
A new ABC NEWS/WASHINGTON POST national poll has Biden leading by 4 points overall, 9 points among registered voters, and 12 points among likely voters.
It’s no surprise at this point that Biden leads when Democrats are asked which candidate is most likely to beat Trump in November. But it is likely surprising to many that he also leads comfortably when voters are asked which candidate would best motivate the Democratic base.
It’s also no surprise that Biden continues to lead by a wide margin among Black Democrats, who accounted for 25% of the Democratic primary voters in 2016. But it’s likely surprising that he also leads among non-college voters.
Overall, the story of the race so far is that Biden is beating Bernie among white moderate and non-college voters while continuing to match Hillary’s margins among people of color.
And, finally, a reminder:
TWITTER Trump yet again referred to Chuck Schumer as “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer” in one of his many tweet-rants this week. Trump refers to Trump with this particular epithet because Schumer once teared up in public while denouncing Trump’s Muslim ban and recalling that his daughter’s middle name is Emma in honor of Emma Lazarus.
Schumer’s great-grandmother and seven of her nine children were killed in the Holocaust.
VULTURE Annabella Sciorra Testifies That Harvey Weinstein Raped Her: “I Couldn’t Fight Anymore.” A painful, must-read story that may have gotten lost in the torrent of news this week. Another infuriating must-read is this account in THE WASHINGTON POST of Weinstein’s defense strategy, and the “monstrous” cross-examination by his attorney Donna Rotunn: “It was monstrous in the insidious way reserved only for cross-examinations of rape victims and no other crime victims—a perversion of justice in which the question isn’t, ‘Did it happen?’ but rather, ‘If it happened, why did you let it?’”
THE WASHINGTON POST The 34 best political movies ever made. A fun list, with “the usual collection of thrillers, biopics, satires and straight-ahead dramas and a few unexpected entries.”
PAUL FINEBAUM Finebaum is a legendary Southern tv and radio sports personality. Click through to the linked video to hear a caller to his show tell one of the most unlikely stories you’ve ever heard. I promise you don’t know where it’s going.
TWEET OF THE WEEK: This tweet explaining why maybe Bernie didn’t win The New York Times endorsement last weekend made me genuinely lol.
You can follow Steve Lichtman during the week on Twitter @stevel3000.