December 20, 2019

Today began with Trump melting down on Twitter over the editorial yesterday in Christianity Today calling for his removal from office. He called this influential paper of American evangelicals “a far left magazine,” and charged it with preferring “a Radical Left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion & your guns, than Donald Trump as your President.” “The fact is, no President has ever done what I have for Evangelicals, or religion itself!”

And he said something quite revealing: “No President has done more for the Evangelical community, and it’s not even close. You’ll not get anything from those Dems on stage. I won’t be reading ET again!” Aside from the extraordinary unlikelihood that Trump ever read CT (not ET, who has gone home),* these lines indicate that Trump’s view of the world as a series of transactions, made up of winners and losers, extends to governing. He thinks evangelicals owe him their votes in exchange for his anti-abortion judges, and feels betrayed at the suggestion that he has not bought their permanent allegiance. While all politicians think about keeping their supporters happy, this suggests a transactional view of politics that illuminates a lot about, for example, his payments to midwestern farmers hurt by his tariffs, or to his willingness to ask a favor of the president of Ukraine.

The president is counting on evangelical support to win reelection. While evangelical leaders like the Reverend Franklin Graham, son of Christianity Today’s founder, Billy Graham, reacted to the CT editorial by defending the president—Graham claimed his father had voted for Trump-- it’s clear Trump was rattled by it. The White House rushed the announcement it would hold an “Evangelicals for Trump” rally in early January—the event had been in the works but not announced-- but observers note that the editorial will empower younger evangelicals to speak up against the president.

Trump is also apparently stressing out about the decision of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi not to name House impeachment managers, and thus to delay the delivery of the articles of impeachment until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) agrees to a fair trial, including key witnesses. Law professor Seth Abramson suggests that Pelosi holds a winning hand unless the media gets involved, and in its desperate desire for conflict and clicks, convinces Americans that the impeachment case must move forward quickly. Trump has always dominated news cycles by making demands; now he is the one under pressure. It is showing. Tonight he tweeted: “Nancy Pelosi is looking for a Quid Pro Quo with the Senate. Why aren’t we Impeaching her?”

Today Pelosi invited Trump to give the State of the Union in the House of Representatives on February 4, 2020. The letter said: “In their great wisdom, our Founders crafted a Constitution based on a system of separation of power: three co-equal branches acting as checks on each other. To ensure that balance of powers, the Constitution calls for the president to ‘from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union’…. In the spirit of respecting our Constitution, I invite you to deliver your State of the Union address before a Joint Session of Congress….” Her repeated references to the very issues that are now at state in the scheduling of his impeachment trial were heavy-handed, and he will blister under them: he has never been able to tolerate her.

It is possible, of course, that the Senate impeachment trial will be underway while he speaks.

A number of stories dropped today about Russia’s role in the Trump administration. Last night, the Washington Post ran a story based in interviews with fifteen former White House officials who claimed that Trump’s conviction that it was Ukraine, and not Russia, who hacked our 2016 election—all evidence to the contrary—came directly from Putin. Former Department of Justice spokesman Matthew Miller told Post columnist Jennifer Rubin: “If it is true that Trump was literally repeating talking points given to him by Putin, then it raises even more questions about his behavior.”  

Trump today retweeted a post from the Associated Press (AP) saying “Russian President Vladimir Putin says U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment is far-fetched and predicts the U.S. Senate will reject it.” Trump commented “A total Witch Hunt!”

Unfortunate timing.

Also yesterday we learned that the Department of Justice was investigating a Russian woman behind an internet science piracy website for attempting to steal US military secrets from defense contractors. The website Sci-Hub publishes paywalled scientific academic papers after hacking into university computers and stealing them. A former US intelligence agent says he believes she is working for Russia’s military intelligence—the same folks who stole emails from the Democratic National Committee in 2016 and gave them to Wikileaks to hurt Hillary Clinton.

This afternoon, The Bulwark, the conservative magazine headed by Charlie Sykes and William Kristol, ran a series of video clips that highlighted how closely the talking points from Fox News personalities and Trump track with those coming from RT, Putin’s propaganda channel. It is no wonder that Democrats increasingly are pushing back on Republicans in Congress who simply parrot the idea that it was Ukraine that attacked us in 2016, and that there is some nefarious story about Joe Biden. Both of those stories originated in Russia.

Tomorrow was the deadline for funding the federal government through September, and on Tuesday, the House approved a massive $1.4 trillion spending package. The package contained $250 million in military aid to Ukraine, and today we learned that the White House threatened to veto that bill and send the country into a government shutdown if House Democrats insisted on language calling for prompt release of that money. The White House says the president, rather than Congress, should have say in how money is released.

Finally, one of Trump’s top reelection advisors was just caught on tape telling top Republicans in Wisconsin that while the party has “traditionally” relied on voter suppression to win swing states, a legal change will let the GOP go on “offense.” He was referring to the 2018 law that reversed a decision in place since 1982 that had kept Republicans from policing the polls. They had been credibly accused of voter intimidation after they had hired off-duty police officers in New Jersey, some of whom were carrying guns, to wear armbands saying “National Ballot Security Task Force.” In 2018, though, that ban was lifted, and the RNC can once again do its own policing of polling places.  

The conservative magazine National Review will run an article in the next edition by editor Ramesh Ponnuru supporting Trump’s impeachment on the grounds that “The Constitution provides for impeachment and removal to protect us from officials, including presidents, who are unable or unwilling to distinguish between the common good that government is supposed to serve and their own narrow interests…. Trump is just such a president. Congress should act accordingly.”

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*Sorry. I couldn’t resist. It’s very late and I’m very tired and I just finished the index to put my book into production and so am very, very punchy.

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Notes:

Trump reacts to Christianity Today article:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-rages-at-christian-magazine-that-called-him-grossly-immoral-but-still-finds-evangelical-support/2019/12/20/f82c33aa-233e-11ea-a153-dce4b94e4249_story.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/12/20/trumps-rage-christianity-today-gives-away-his-scam/?fbclid=IwAR1ZCddcfIpJC9WMCdcD3mU-5xrbdgs8IlHYoNfP61PeYcrhm2wmqPRboUU

spending package: https://www.washingtonpost.com/us-policy/2019/12/17/house-passes-sprawling-trillion-spending-deal-sends-senate-ahead-friday-shutdown-deadline/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/us-policy/2019/12/20/trump-administration-demanded-democrats-strip-ukraine-aid-language-spending-package/

State of the Union: https://thehill.com/homenews/house/475509-pelosi-invites-trump-to-deliver-state-of-the-union-on-feb-4

Putin and Ukraine views: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/former-white-house-officials-say-they-feared-putin-influenced-the-presidents-views-on-ukraine-and-2016-campaign/2019/12/19/af0fdbf6-20e9-11ea-bed5-880264cc91a9_story.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/12/20/how-trumps-conversations-with-putin-overlapped-with-his-emerging-ukraine-conspiracy-theories/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/12/20/latest-russia-bombshell-bolsters-democrats-demand-evidence/

The Bulwark video: https://thebulwark.com/come-watch-the-russian-republican-propaganda-machine-in-action/

Science spy? https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/justice-department-investigates-sci-hub-founder-on-suspicion-of-working-for-russian-intelligence/2019/12/19/9dbcb6e6-2277-11ea-a153-dce4b94e4249_story.html

Voter suppression: https://apnews.com/af2f0ede054d8baebbe1bb6ca47b4895

National Review: https://www.nationalreview.com/magazine/2019/12/31/four-tests-for-impeachment/#slide-1