November 11, 2019

Lots of stories percolating today, but the one that stands out to me is that New York's Republican Representative Peter King announced his retirement. King has been in the House since 1993. He is 75, and there are undoubtedly personal reasons that he'd like to stay home. But he is also from a swing district, and his retirement speaks volumes about how unpopular Trump's Republican Party has become. In January 2017, when Trump took office, there were 241 House Republicans. Since then, 100 have either left the House or announced their retirements. That's 41%. As I wrote the other day, what that means is that Republicans fear for their seats, and that more moderate Republicans are quitting or being beaten. As that happens, those that are left are going to be more and more extreme.

You can see that extremism in the way the GOP has thrown itself behind Trump, even as the walls close in around him. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who took Russian money from Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas (no, I'm not going to let that go), has accused House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff of launching a "coup" against the government. Because they are unable to defend Trump on factual grounds, there is going to more and more grandstanding and antics from these extremists to try to discredit the impeachment proceedings. My guess is that this will not play well on television, and CBS has decided to air the hearings. It is likely that this will hurt the president's popularity. In 1954, lots of Americans were just fine with Senator Joseph McCarthy's bullying and badgering until they saw on television just how thuggish and frivolous he seemed. It's hard to imagine the antics of people like Jim Jordan playing well in the face of smart officials who are sworn in and clearly concerned about American's national security.

And, speaking of which, Trump today accused Schiff of doctoring the transcripts that the House is releasing. This is a lie. The witnesses must review and sign off on any released testimony; Schiff cannot meddle with it.

Once again, the White House is trying to shift the narrative.

Trump tweeted today that "in order to continue being the most Transparent President in history, I will be releasing this week the Transcript of the first, and therefore most important, phone call I had with the President of Ukraine. I am sure you will find it tantalizing!" This is a revealing comment. First of all, there has never been any question about this call. It is widely believed to be a simply congratulatory call to the newly elected President Zelensky, and no one has asked to see it. In contrast, the list of the things Trump has withheld from the public is legendary, but today he lost, once again, a lawsuit over whether or the House can get copies of his taxes.

So why is Trump trying to demonstrate his transparency by offering a readout no one wants.?....

Today the House released transcripts from three more witnesses, including Laura Cooper from the Pentagon, a deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine. Cooper was the person set to testify in the SCIF when the Republicans stormed it, so her testimony was shorter than the other witnesses. But what she said was potent. She said that the Pentagon did not know about the freeze on aid to Ukraine, and that, when it discovered that acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who was also the head off the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), had frozen aid, there was deep concern, attempts to get the money released... and questions about whether or not the hold was legal. In any case, Congress should have been notified, they thought... but it wasn't. Cooper also told of another time when the White House withheld aid Ukraine desperately needed in its struggle to hold Russia at bay. The OMB objected to transferring javelin missiles to Ukraine out of concern that "Russia would react negatively." Cooper also said that Trump called Bolton at home to complain that, according to CNN, a Navy maneuver was designed to push back against Russia in the Black Sea. The White House cancelled the maneuver.

The elephant in the room... again, and always... is Russia. And while some Republicans are going home rather than trying to defend this president, the more radical ones who remain appear willing to fight for Trump no matter what. Public testimony begins on Wednesday. It's going to be a bumpy ride.