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Fri Dec 13, 2019, 08:46 PM


Friday Talking Points -- Snowflake-In-Chief Not Person Of The Year, Sorry

{Program Note for DemocraticUnderground.com readers:
This is a weekly roundup column of what is going on in the political world. For the duration of the 2020 campaign, I've been instructed to post it under the "Democratic Primaries" category rather than the "General Discussion" category, whenever the primary race is discussed. This discussion may be a large part of the column, or a very small part. Just wanted to clarify this up front, to avoid any objections that most of the post is "off topic."}

And so we come to the close of the most momentous week in Washington of the year. In one week's time, we've seen articles of impeachment move to the floor of the House of Representatives, an agreement between House Democrats and the White House to move forward on the U.S./Mexico/Canada Agreement, a truce declared in the budget battles (that had threatened to shut down the government once again), Democrats agreeing to the creation of the "Space Force" in exchange for paid family leave for federal workers, a tentative trade cease-fire declared with China, the Senate unanimously backing up the overwhelming vote in the House to declare the Armenian genocide for what it was, the release of an inspector general's report that totally debunked most of the conspiracy theories about the initiation of the counterintelligence operation at the edges of the 2016 Trump campaign, President Trump being forced to pay a $2 million fine for misuse of his own charitable foundation, and the House passing a landmark bill to fight the greed of drug companies by finally using the federal government's buying power to force lower prices on prescription medication. Again: all of these rather large things happened in a single week.

That's pretty productive, you've got to admit. Although the impeachment battle was the one issue which sucked up all the media oxygen, there were plenty of other things going on in Washington that didn't get anywhere near enough attention. Like Donald Trump having an epic hissy fit over not being named Time magazine's "person of the year." But we're getting ahead of ourselves....

At the start of the week, an inspector general report was released to the public which showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that Donald Trump is nothing short of paranoid. All his many claims of political bias in the Russia investigation were thoroughly debunked, which his own F.B.I. director then openly admitted. But seeing his conspiracy theories flushed down the tubes wasn't acceptable to Trump, so he sent his toady attorney general out to claim (once again) that up was down and black was white. Trump then immediately began claiming the exact opposite of what the I.G. report actually said, which isn't really that big a surprise.

Nothing showed the stark difference in how Democrats and Republicans are approaching impeachment so much as Representative Matt Gaetz, who complained during an impeachment committee meeting about Hunter Biden's past sins:

I don't want to make light of anybody's substance abuse issues. But it's a little hard to believe that Burisma hired Hunter Biden to resolve their international disputes when he could not resolve his own dispute with Hertz rental car leaving cocaine and a crack pipe in the car.

Unfortunately for Gaetz, his own house is built of the thinnest and most fragile glass imaginable, as Democrat Hank Johnson immediately pointed out:

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) then spoke up to oppose Gaetz's amendment, but not before taking a pointed swipe at his colleague's own run-in with the law. Gaetz was arrested in 2008 on suspicion of D.U.I., declining a breathalyzer test and a field sobriety test, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The charges against Gaetz were later dropped, and he was never convicted.

"I would say that the pot calling the kettle black is not something that we should do," Johnson said, prompting laughter to break out in the hearing room.

"I don't know what members, if any, have had any problems with substance abuse, been busted in D.U.I., I don't know," he continued, shooting a glance in Gaetz's direction. "But if I did, I wouldn't raise it against anyone on this committee. I don't think it's proper."

Cameras showed Gaetz watching Johnson, expressionless, and looking down as the Georgia lawmaker concluded his scolding. Johnson then continued with a criticism of Gaetz's amendment, asking Gaetz whether it's "ever OK for a president of the United States of America to invite foreign interference in an upcoming presidential election campaign."

The lawmakers stared at each other, silently, from across the dais for 17 seconds before Johnson moved on with his argument.

The best summary statement, though, came from the committee's chair, Jerry Nadler:

The evidence shows that Donald J. Trump, the president of the United States, has put himself before his country. He has violated his most basic responsibilities to the people. He has broken his oath. I will honor mine. If you would honor yours, then I urge you to your duty.

All along this impeachment has resembled Kabuki theater, which is kind of strange. There have been no surprises in how the process has played out at all -- House Democrats were going to impeach Trump, Republicans were going to stick their heads in the sand, and then the Senate is going to quickly vote and Trump will remain in office. Every single part of this passion play has happened exactly as everyone expected it would. While we're in the midst of an event that has only happened two previous times (three, if you count what happened to Richard Nixon) in American history, it is seen by the public at large as nothing more than a preordained process where everyone knows full well how it's going to end. In this regard, Nancy Pelosi was probably right to get through the process as fast as was humanly possible, because dragging it out wasn't going to change much of anything of the overall storyline. But more on that particular issue in a moment.

What else has been happening in the world of politics? Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg got in a tussle over transparency, which led to both candidates acquiescing to the demands of the other. Warren admitted she had made almost $2 million from corporate work before she got into politics, while Buttigieg is now allowing the press into his high-dollar fundraisers and will be publishing the names of his biggest bundlers (those who raise over $250,000 for his campaign). Warren has been hitting both Buttigieg and Joe Biden over accepting large donations, painting the two of them as not being sufficiently ready to take on Wall Street.

Biden's campaign sent up a rather strange trial balloon by talking to the press about the possibility of Biden announcing that he'd only be a one-term president and wouldn't even run for re-election in 2024. This was almost universally seen as a bad political move, so it's doubtful we'll ever hear the subject raised by the Biden camp again.

The December Democratic presidential debate is less than a week away, but as of this writing, it's doubtful that any candidates will even appear on the stage. This was a fast-moving story today, so further developments are sure to happen quickly.

Initially, this debate was scheduled to happen at UCLA, until it was discovered that AFSCME Local 3299 was in contract talks with the University of California. Because of the labor dispute, the event was moved to Loyola Marymount University instead.

Today, Elizabeth Warren tweeted out that she would not be crossing a picket line at Loyola Marymount, even if it meant skipping the debate, because Unite Here Local 11 -- representing 150 cashiers, cooks, dishwashers, and servers -- is picketing the university in the midst of their own stalled push for a collective bargaining agreement.

All the other Democratic candidates who have qualified for this debate -- Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Andrew Yang, Tom Steyer, Amy Klobuchar, and Pete Buttigieg -- quickly followed Warren's lead and announced that they too would refuse to cross a picket line. Stay tuned, because with none of the candidates willing to appear at this venue, there will likely be another change coming soon from the Democratic National Committee. Isn't there a community center somewhere in Southern California that uses Union labor and is big enough to hold a Democratic debate? We all may be about to find out the answer to that question.

As occasionally happens, we've got a rather unusual pair of awards this week, so we encourage everyone to read both of these segments before reacting.

Our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. As we already noted, this has been a rather momentous week, chock full of jarring disconnects such as Pelosi gravely announcing the two articles of impeachment against the president and then a mere hour later proudly announcing that she had brokered a deal with the White House on the U.S.M.C.A. trade agreement.

Pelosi managed an almost-impossible feat by striking a trade agreement that was heartily endorsed by one of the most influential Labor leaders in the country, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., Richard Trumka. This is a huge win, because it gives an enormous amount of political cover for Democratic politicians to support the new deal. Democrats have been politically burned in the past for their support of free trade (see: NAFTA backlash), so many of them are more than a little bit wary about supporting another one. But with Trumka on board they can accurately state that they are standing together with Labor in supporting it. Again, this gives an enormous amount of political cover that will prove to be crucial in explaining their support to their own constituents.

When Trump initially unveiled his proposed deal earlier this year, House Democrats reacted negatively:

Senior members criticized the trade deal as "incomplete," "flawed and dangerous" and "likely a dead-end in a Democratic House of Representatives." It quickly became clear that further negotiations would be needed to garner support from House Democrats.

Those negotiations dragged on all year long, despite the White House constantly pushing to hold votes to approve what they'd already agreed to with Mexico and Canada. Democrats made four big demands, and eventually they got almost everything they asked for. As Pelosi put it this week: "You know what I've said: These have been the fights. And we stayed on this, and we ate their lunch."

The House now seems poised to pass the new version of the U.S.M.C.A. before the holidays, and it is looking like Canada and Mexico will agree to the new deal as well. In fact, Trump may have some trouble over in the Senate, because Republicans there are not exactly happy with how liberal the deal turned out to be.

But the trade deal wasn't the only milestone for Pelosi this week. She also scored a big win on impeachment, allowing the moderate House members who were worried about their chances for re-election to have a very focused set of impeachment articles. Other Democrats had been arguing to throw everything but the kitchen sink in these articles, starting with those ten instances of obstruction of justice that the Mueller Report detailed. Pelosi has always been reluctant to even jump into the impeachment fray, which is likely why she went lean in the end. Everybody already knows the Senate is not going to remove Trump from office, so Pelosi did what she could to limit any possible political fallout in her own chamber.

Pelosi also scored a victory on paid family leave for federal workers, which has long been an important issue for progressives. This is a monumental shift in federal policy that will affect millions of workers, and all Pelosi had to give up to get it was to allow Trump to have his "Space Force" to brag about. This has always been a rather childish obsession with Trump, and allowing him to have it isn't really that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, so Pelosi traded it for a much more important policy shift for federal workers.

Progressives did score a win with Pelosi this week as well, as they got her to move with some last-minute demands to improve the prescription drug pricing bill before it got voted on. Moderates were pushing for rather timid and incremental steps, but the progressives accurately pointed out that Mitch McConnell wasn't ever going to allow a vote on any bill the House passed, so why not make it much stronger so that it would be more effective as a political messaging opportunity in the upcoming congressional elections? Attacking the high price of prescription drugs was a huge issue in the 2016 midterms, so this bill would be a marker of what Democrats could actually achieve if they take back the Senate and the White House in 2020. As Pelosi said on the House floor before the vote: "We're finally giving Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices." This is a very big deal, because again this has been an important Democratic agenda goal for the past two decades.

Here's a good rundown of what made it into the final bill:

The bill amounts to a blueprint for the sweeping action that Democrats could take with unified control of Washington in 2021, lawmakers said in the run-up to the vote. It would mandate that the government negotiate the price of at least 25 Medicare Part D drugs annually, ultimately requiring federal officials to hammer out the cost of at least 50 medicines a year. Commercial insurers could also take advantage of the deals.

A separate set of provisions would limit drug manufacturers' ability to annually hike prices in Medicare, forcing them to rebate the portion of the increase that is above the rate of inflation. The bill envisions eventually expanding that requirement to the private sector under language that progressives led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal secured in negotiations with Pelosi just 48 hours ahead of the vote.

The legislation would also place a first-ever cap on out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries.

Democrats directed the bulk of the bill's projected savings toward an ambitious expansion of Medicare benefits that would extend dental, vision and hearing coverage to seniors. Additional investments are earmarked for federal research agencies like the National Institutes of Health, and efforts to slow the opioid epidemic.

The Congressional Budget Office predicted that the legislation overall would lower federal spending by $456 billion over a decade, with the expansion of Medicare benefits costing the government roughly $358 billion over a decade.

Taken together, what Pelosi achieved this week was the culmination of a lot of hard work done over the entire year. The looming holiday break has always been a big motivator for Congress to actually get things done rather than endlessly waffle, and this year has proven this to be true in a big way.

So for getting so much done this week, which included victories for both the moderate and progressive wings of her caucus, the obvious choice for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week was none other than Nancy Pelosi.

{Congratulate Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on her official contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.}

As we previously said, please keep reading before deciding on your reaction to this week's awards.

This week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, in a surprise split decision, also goes to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

You can't get as much done as Pelosi managed this week without disappointing some Democrats, plain and simple. And because there was so much accomplished, there was a lot of disappointment to go around. Let's take these in the same order as above.

The new U.S.M.C.A. trade agreement, many Democrats are already arguing, is nothing more than a giant Christmas present to Donald Trump's re-election campaign. Pelosi even addressed this when announcing the new deal: "There are a few who have said: 'Why? You shouldn't do this. This gives him a win.' No. We are so far away from the proposal that he put forth that this is a triumph for American workers."

Pelosi is making the case that passing U.S.M.C.A. is actually good politics for House Democrats, because it undermines the Republican argument (which they've been leaning on rather hard during the impeachment hearings) that "all Democrats want to do is impeach Trump, when they should be doing the people's business they were sent here to do." They desperately want to paint Pelosi's Democratic House as vengeful and otherwise incompetent. Trump himself has tried to paint them as "do-nothing Democrats." Passing the trade deal completely cuts this argument off at the knees.

But by doing so, it hands Trump only his second major legislative victory (the other being the wildly unpopular Paul Ryan tax cuts). The list of what Trump's been able to get Congress to do now has two items rather than just one, in other words, and you can bet your bottom dollar he'll be bragging about it no end on the campaign trail.

People making the argument that Democrats should have refused to deal with Trump at all, though, are making a case that the American people really aren't behind, because it is arguing for continued partisan gridlock on everything for the next year. That's not a message that plays well for people running for House seats, to put it bluntly.

So far, the Democrats running for president have mostly criticized the new trade deal Pelosi struck. They have the luxury of doing so, since they are engaged in convincing Democratic primary voters that they're the best ones to fight Trump. This will only get more apparent as the trade deal works its way through the Senate next year. But they're certainly not the only Democrats warning that trade deals usually don't work out anywhere near as well for American workers as initially advertised. So seeing Trump get a big political win and seeing another trade deal passed is not exactly reason for all Democrats to be celebrating right now.

On impeachment, Pelosi disappointed many Democrats by limiting the articles of impeachment to the bare bones of the Ukraine scandal. Since the Senate was unlikely to vote Trump out of office, why shouldn't Democrats have gone whole hog and included every possible instance of presidential abuse of power possible? There is certainly no shortage of such possibilities, after all. In addition to the obstruction of justice charges laid out by Robert Mueller, there are numerous other ways Trump has either bent or outright broken constitutional norms. Since Democrats only had one bite at the impeachment apple, why not provide a record for history of everything Trump has so far gotten away with?

This wasn't even the only way Pelosi disappointed many Democrats on impeachment. The speed with which the House has moved has meant refusing to delay for the federal courts to weigh in on any of it. The most obvious example of this was refusing to push harder to get John Bolton to testify before the House. Bolton is unique in this process because not only was he a Trump insider who was in the room when many of these decisions were discussed, but he's also seriously annoyed at Trump for being fired. There are others who were also in the room, but they are all still Trump sycophants and likely wouldn't give any negative testimony at all. There are others annoyed at Trump, but without the inside knowledge that Bolton has. Bolton even teased what he could testify to through his lawyer in the middle of the process, but Democrats never called his bluff. It now seems that whatever story Bolton has to tell will have to wait until his book comes out -- which will be far too late to have any actual effect on the process.

Pelosi's streamlined impeachment will be second-guessed for decades, that much appears certain. She made her decision pretty early on and has stuck to it, but the entire process has left many Democrats seriously disappointed. And that's putting it mildly.

Pelosi is also already getting some heat for the prescription drug bill the House just passed. She was forced to modify it to soothe progressives at the last minute, but the progressives do have a very valid point. The bill is modest and incremental (covering only 25-50 drugs rather than all drugs) rather than bold and as transformative as possible. Since Mitch McConnell was never going to allow a vote on the bill anyway, why not shoot for the moon?

What Pelosi got passed was a big deal, as it is the first time such a bill (allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices) made it this far. But it could have been a much bigger deal, obviously. Because of this, many progressives are likely to remain disappointed at what might have been.

So as has happened a few times in the past, we are going to give both our weekly awards to the same person this week. Nancy Pelosi chalked up an impressive amount of action this past week -- even her detractors would have to admit that. But in doing so she also disappointed many Democrats, mostly for not going far enough. Because of this, we find that Nancy Pelosi also has to be seen as our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

{Contact Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on her official contact page, to let her know what you think of her actions.}

Volume 554 (12/13/19)

We've got an eclectic mixed bag of talking points this week. So much was going on that it was hard to even decide what was most suited to comment on, in fact. And then we just threw in two at the end to get under Donald Trump's incredibly thin skin, just because he's been such a snowflake this week. So there's that to look forward to....

And speaking of things to look forward to, this column will not appear for the next two Fridays, because we've got our annual year-end "McLaughlin Awards" to hand out. So Friday Talking Points will see everyone again in the new year. If you'd like to nominate someone or some event for one of the many categories, we threw the nominations open this week, so please share your ideas!

Calling a genocide a genocide, finally

This has been a very long fight, even if few people have even been aware of it. Congress has resisted taking this step for a long time, because they've always been afraid of annoying Turkey. But calling what happened 100 years ago by its proper name is indeed meaningful, and the recent frostiness between America and Turkey has now allowed Congress to do what it really should have years ago: call the Turks murdering Armenians a genocide, because that is exactly what it was. Senator Robert Menendez spoke eloquently on the Senate floor in support of the measure, which wound up passing the Senate unanimously:

America's non-response to the Turkish horrors established patterns that would be repeated... We know all too well the horrors that would be repeated later in the 20th century with the Holocaust and other genocides around the world. Here in the Senate today, we break those patterns. We join the House who voted to do so... 405 to 11. Today the Senate shows the same resolve.

It's not us, it's the Senate...

Do-nothing Mitch!

"You know, both Trump and his Republican enablers have been trying to make a really stupid point -- stupid because it is so far from reality. Trump calls us the 'do-nothing Democrats' and Republicans weep and wail about how the House can't get anything done because of impeachment. This was proven absolutely ridiculous this week. The House struck an agreement to move forward on the North American trade deal -- by getting many important protections for workers added -- as well as passing a landmark bill to fight high prescription drug prices and negotiating a paid family leave program for federal workers. Do nothing? Hardly. In fact, there is indeed one house of Congress where absolutely nothing gets done, but it is on the other side of the Capitol. Do-Nothing Mitch McConnell presides over the legislative graveyard that is the United States Senate. In fact, the House has gotten more things done this week than the Senate has managed to do all year long."

Do-Nothing Mitch (part 2)

Hammer hard on the drug bill, because it is a real winner for Democrats with the voters.

"Do-Nothing Mitch McConnell is refusing to even hold a vote on the prescription drug bill the House just passed, which isn't too surprising since he's refused to hold votes on hundreds of bills we've sent over to him. That is not an exaggeration -- look it up. Hundreds of bills have passed the House that could make Americans' lives easier, and Mitch refuses to even consider one of them. Right now he's refusing to allow the federal government to force the big drug corporations to lower their prices on life-saving medications like insulin. Republicans seem to want people to pay hundreds of dollars for an insulin dose that used to cost them a tiny fraction of that obscene price. Republicans, led by Do-Nothing Mitch, are just fine with the drug companies raking in billions from sick people trying to afford their medicine, while Democrats think this is just flat-out wrong. We want to fight high drug prices, but Republicans refuse to even consider it. I just have one thing to say to Do-Nothing Mitch: the voters are paying attention on this one. Good luck defending doing nothing on high drug prices next November, Mitch."

Use the political cover given

This one is short and sweet, because the concept is so simple.

"When considering whether to vote on the new U.S./Mexico/Canada Agreement, I will be listening to what Labor leaders have to say. And right now, I have to admit that if it's good enough for the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s Richard Trumka, then it's probably going to be good enough for me to vote on."

All down the ballot

This is already making Republicans nervous, for good reason.

"In 2010, Democrats lost over 700 state-level legislative races in the midst of the Tea Party election. As a direct result, Republicans went on a gerrymandering binge that we've paid the price for ever since. In 2020, things are going to be different, though. We've learned this lesson well -- state-level races are important when redistricting looms. Over the past three years, Democrats have won back 435 legislative seats at the state level, and flipped control of legislative chambers from New York to Colorado, from Maine to Washington. This year, we flipped the entire legislature in Virginia. And we're not done yet -- next year, we're going to target even more state-level seats so we don't get gerrymandered out of the House of Representatives for the next 10 years. And Republicans are already running scared. They even admitted in the Wall Street Journal that, quote, as few as 42 state legislative races could determine as much as a 136-seat swing in the House over the next decade, unquote. Which is exactly what we'd like to see happen, of course."

Crocodile tears exposed

It must be tough to fight all that cyberbullying online, eh Melania?

"Last week we got a whole lot of fake outrage because Barron Trump's name came up -- in a totally benign way -- during the impeachment hearings. Republicans ginned up their phony outrage and declared minors off-limits from what they called 'attacks,' even though it wasn't anywhere near a personal attack on Barron Trump. This week, though, they are strangely silent when President Trump got in a huge snit over not being named 'person of the year' by Time magazine. The 16-year-old Greta Thunberg won instead, and Trump snidely commented on Twitter: 'So ridiculous. Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill!' This is downright laughable for any number of reasons, starting with Trump counseling anyone on the planet on 'anger management ' problems. Talk about the pot and the kettle! It's also notable since here Trump is attacking a 16-year-old a week after his wife indignantly tweeted about 'very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it.' Again, have you even met your husband, Melania? Thunberg immediately showed how much classier she is than any of the Trump family by changing her Twitter profile to read: 'A teenager working on her anger management problem. Currently chilling and watching a good old fashioned movie with a friend.' But what I'm waiting for is an equal amount of outrage from all those Republicans who jumped on the 'don't attack minors' bandwagon last week. Although I'm not exactly holding my breath, if you know what I mean."


That wasn't even the worst part of the whole episode, though.

"It must be incredibly tough work to feed Donald Trump's gargantuan ego, as was proven once again this week. After Trump threw a temper tantrum over not being named 'person of the year,' someone tried to make him feel better by editing a photo of Trump's face onto the body of Greta Thunberg, from the Time cover photo. How thin-skinned can you get? To say nothing of downright creepy -- once you've seen that photo, it's impossible to un-see it. I mean, seriously. I don't even want to hear the word 'snowflake' from any conservative ever again after seeing that absurdly doctored photo, because it is pretty obvious that Donald Trump is nothing short of our nation's Snowflake-In-Chief."

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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