The Hill’s Morning Report – Dems to hit gas on impeachment
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House Democrats want an impeachment inquiry that moves swiftly, but they say they have no timeline. They say they want to narrowly focus the investigation on President Trump and his alleged efforts to get a foreign government to dig up dirt on a political rival. Yet the potential witness list and lines of inquiry grow by the hour. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) says impeaching Trump is not political while describing the importance of public opinion, which she and her colleagues are working overtime to shape.
Would articles of impeachment hinge on alleged abuses of power by Trump related to Ukraine, as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) argued over the weekend? Might evidence support allegations of a cover-up and withholding of evidence by the White House, or even violations of the Whistleblower Protection Act, all of which interest Pelosi?
“Some argue the cover-up is the bigger crime,” Schiff said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. The more serious offense, he argued, is that “the president is once again not just inviting but coercing a foreign nation to get involved to try to help him with yet another presidential election.”
Action this week — while most House Democrats are back in their districts and some committees call witnesses and gather information — will send a strong signal about whether Congress squeezes impeachment from start to finish into calendar year 2019, or the drama becomes an exhausting, confused inquiry that bleeds into next year and leaves America’s politics more deeply divided, if that’s even possible.
The Hill: House liberals support speed and a clear-cut narrative about Trump’s actions.
Here’s what to watch in Congress this week:
> Three House committees on Thursday will depose Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine who resigned last week, seeking to learn about his dealings with Ukrainian officials and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who says he spent months investigating Joe Biden’s and Hunter Biden’s past actions in search of evidence of misdeeds in Ukraine suspected by the president but debunked within the government, denied by the Bidens and unsupported by multiple investigations by news outlets. Volker is among five State Department officials scheduled to give depositions to three congressional panels;
> Secretary of State Mike Pompeo faces a Friday deadline to respond to three House committees requesting a tranche of documents under threat of subpoena;
> The House Intelligence Committee on Friday will glean closed-door information from Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community, who in August received a “credible” whistleblower account of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as well as Trump’s temporary blockade of U.S. military aid to Ukraine as possible leverage to influence Zelensky’s cooperation. The whistleblower also described unusual White House steps to bury the notes of Trump’s phone call in a super-secret digital vault;
> The House Intelligence Committee on Sunday indicated it will likely call Attorney General William Barr, whom Trump told Zelensky to contact, as well as Giuliani and senior White House officials;
> Giuliani on Sunday refused to retreat from his tangle of accusations against the Bidens. “If I’m wrong, I’m wrong,” he told ABC News’s “This Week.” “I support everything I say with affidavits.” The ex-prosecutor and former New York City mayor said he would “consider” cooperating with the House Intelligence Committee. “I have to be guided by my client,” he said. Giuliani added that he thought Pelosi should remove Schiff as chairman, calling him “illegitimate”;
> House Democrats’ interest in talking with senior White House officials is rooted in the information provided by the whistleblower within his official complaint, as well as reports that Trump instructed acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and the Office of Management and Budget to hold back on the military aid to Ukraine. The White House’s classification and archiving of records about the president’s communications with foreign officials also is part of the impeachment inquiry (The Washington Post and CNN);
> The unnamed intelligence official who filed the complaint that fueled impeachment momentum last week is consulting with members of the House and Senate to cooperate with Congress while also protecting his identity, one of his lawyers tweeted on Sunday. “No date/time has yet been set,” wrote Mark Zaid. CBS News’s “60 Minutes” reported Sunday that the whistleblower is under federal protection because of fears for his safety. Trump on Sunday demanded to meet the whistleblower and expose officials who gave the intelligence official information, some of which the president has confirmed. He warned of “big consequences” in a series of irate tweets (The Hill).
> Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will be asked again this week to clarify whether the Senate is committed to holding a trial if the House votes for articles of impeachment. McConnell in March told NPR the Senate would indeed hold a trial, if it got to that point, and his spokesmen has said as much, but questions linger. Sixty-seven Senate votes are needed to remove a president from office.
The Hill: Republicans are showing signs of discomfort as the impeachment battle begins.
The Hill’s Sunday shows wrap-up: Impeachment grips Washington.
CBS’s 60 Minutes: Interviews with Pelosi, Schiff and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
Impeachment analysis & perspectives:
Steve Vladeck: Trump’s Ukraine whistleblower scandal sets a dangerous DOJ legal precedent.
Jackson Diehl: How the diplomatic pros lost Ukraine to Trump.
Jennifer Rubin: The whistleblower: Distinguished person of the week (we don’t know who).
The New York Times Editorial Board: Here’s who the House needs to hear from during the inquiry (Trump rarely acts alone).
Peter Wehner: What’s the matter with Republicans?
The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board: Impeachment must go forward, more in sorrow than in anger.
David Frum: A realist’s guide to impeachment.
David Weigel: Analysis: What impeachment means to Democrats’ suburban dreams.
LEADING THE DAY
POLITICS: With the announcement of the inquiry in the rearview mirror, House Democrats are moving forward and looking to take their argument to the voters with a little more than a year to go until the 2020 elections.
As Scott Wong and Mike Lillis report, Democrats believe the electorate will be more responsive to the ongoing situation involving the president and Ukraine. They argue that it is more digestible than the 448-page report by former special counsel Robert Mueller and that it involves Trump as president, not as a candidate.
“It’s explainable: It’s betrayal. People can understand betrayal, engaging with a foreign power to interfere in our democracy,” said Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), a vulnerable freshman who announced support for an inquiry last Monday.
For months, Pelosi has said that public sentiment would be the key in any impeachment push, and the polls are starting to trickle in now a week after she announced the official inquiry. According to a new CBS News poll, 55 percent approve of the decision to open the inquiry, with almost 87 percent of Democrats backing the move. 45 disapprove of the decision.
Impeachment is also expected to create a new test for a highly polarized voting electorate, as Niall Stanage writes in his latest memo:
“In almost three years since President Trump was elected, the nation has seen its schisms grow deeper and more jagged. It’s a change that has been propelled mainly by the president’s words and actions but also by the fervor of his critics.
Now, the question is whether there is any possibility of impeachment inquiries revealing new information so damning that it transcends partisan allegiances and creates the beginnings of consensus — or whether the battle lines will be drawn more boldly.
“Some political insiders respond to the suggestion that impeachment could cause a worsening of polarization with a sardonic question of their own: How much worse could it get?”
Despite questions on how the public will react, the president’s team has been intent on taking a two-by-four to attack Democrats, the whistleblower and all other comers as it looks to protect him heading into his reelection fight, as Morgan Chalfant writes.
Among other barbs, the president suggested on Friday that the whistleblower may be a “partisan operative” and told the United Nations General Assembly last week that he was engaged in a “war.” He upped the ante late Sunday, claiming that the possible removal of a president would spark a “civil war,” which Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) rebuked him for. Trump’s team has consistently slammed Democrats for opening the formal inquiry, including calling for Schiff’s resignation and bashing Pelosi for opening the inquiry without first seeing the transcript of the July call.
“We have an impeachment inquiry based on nothing,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters.
Reuters: Trump does not plan to add firepower to his existing legal team.
Politico: President Pence? Facing impeachment, Trump latches on to his sidekick.
While general election polling has not emerged since last Monday, Trump’s job approval numbers have remained largely staid, or even improved in some surveys. According to an NPR-PBS Newshour-Marist poll released late last week, Trump’s approval numbers jumped 3 points in two weeks to 44 percent.
NBC News: Top White House aides planning impeachment response effort.
Biden’s campaign is putting pressure on members of the media and are calling on them to refrain from talking to Giuliani.
In a letter addressed the leaders of news and cable networks and some anchors, two top Biden campaign advisers called on them to stop booking the former New York City mayor. They contended that Giuliani’s appearances on news networks are giving the lawyer and his “false, debunked conspiracy theories” undeserved credibility (The Daily Beast).
More broadly, the impeachment inquiry of Trump has shaken up the Democratic race for the White House, as Amie Parnes reports. The House’s rapid push toward impeachment forced candidates and their campaigns to strategize on how to contend with the development.
Democratic consultants and strategists say the impeachment inquiry could help some candidates such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who got on the impeachment train early and has been climbing steadily in the polls.
“This is a complicated issue from a political point of view,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) acknowledged at a news conference last week.
But it is unlikely to boost those in the lower rungs of the Democratic primary, most of whom have struggled to garner any attention. This only complicates their efforts.
“Talk about the ultimate political earthquake for the 2020 candidates,” said one Democratic strategist. “The impeachment chatter soaked up most of the oxygen this week, and only a couple of candidates really got any airtime. You heard some chatter about Biden because he is at the heart of all of this. And you heard a little from Warren and Bernie Sanders and [Sen.] Kamala Harris [D-Calif.]. And that’s all she wrote.”
The Associated Press: Democrats in South’s governor races hit hurdle: Impeachment.
> Fundraising: For the rest of today, inboxes will be flooded as 2020 candidates look to squeeze every last dollar out of their supporters ahead of the end of the third fundraising quarter, which ends at midnight tonight.
The last-ditch effort to raise campaign funds could play a crucial role in the coming weeks, along with the upcoming rounds of debates.
While it gives top tier candidates another chance to flex their political and financial muscles, the situation remains more pressing for some of their lower-tier opponents. Some are expected to reexamine their campaigns after multiple former competitors decided to close up shop in recent weeks and months (The Hill).
Politico: Bernie Sanders is in trouble.
New York Magazine: Is impeachment the end of the road for most of the 2020 field?
> Massachusetts Senate: Environmental advocacy groups are going all in to back Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) shortly after Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) announced his primary bid against the incumbent senator and longtime lawmaker.
Markey, the original sponsor of the Green New Deal in the upper chamber, has garnered quite a bit of good will in the environmental community. His support for the progressive proposal also led Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to endorse him as he looks to fend of Kennedy’s challenge and retain support from key pockets of the Democratic coalitions (The Hill).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
INTERNATIONAL: Political turmoil and suspense are seemingly everywhere.
> Afghanistan: In a low-turnout election on Saturday, Afghans voted to choose a president for a country suffering through one of the most violent periods in its recent history. The vote has turned into a battle between two bitter rivals who have sparred for half a decade: the incumbent president, Ashraf Ghani, and his government’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah. Preliminary results may not be determined until Oct. 17 at the earliest, and final results are expected on Nov. 7 or later (The New York Times).
> China: The second-largest economy in the world will celebrate the 70th anniversary of communism on National Day on Tuesday (The New York Times). Meanwhile, the Trump administration rattled markets on Friday with news it is weighing options to impose limits on U.S. capital flows into China following years in which U.S. businesses and investors worked to gain entry to China’s lucrative markets (Bloomberg). Here’s what that might mean, if implemented (MarketWatch). The People’s Bank of China (PBOC), in a Sunday statement on China’s social network, Weibo, said China will “continue to implement a prudent monetary policy and increase the strength of counter-cyclical measures.” The PBOC’s pledge came as the Chinese vice commerce minister, Wang Shouwen, said Beijing would open up more sectors of the economy to foreign investors. Wang also announced that Beijing will send its top negotiator, vice premier Liu He, to lead negotiations with the U.S. in early October (The Guardian). There’s plenty of speculation about whether Trump’s impeachment pressures make it more likely he will settle for a trade agreement with China (The Associated Press).
> Hong Kong: Young protesters, with support from older citizens in the former British colony, want to spoil China’s National Day on Tuesday and are pulling out the stops to do it (The Associated Press).
> Canada: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, seeking reelection, is struggling among young voters in Canada, who are considered critical to the Oct. 21 election results (The New York Times).
> Great Britain: Prime Minister Boris Johnson, under investigation for his business dealings with a U.S. businesswoman and on the precipice of the United Kingdom’s dramatic split from the rest of Europe, vowed on Sunday to stay on as Britain’s prime minister even if he fails to secure a transition deal to leave the European Union, arguing his Conservative government can deliver Brexit on Oct. 31 no matter what (Reuters).
> Russia: Moscow streets filled on Sunday with an estimated 9,000 people at a rally to demand the release of other protesters who have been detained by authorities since the summer (Reuters).
The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
House Democrats resist a win for American workers, by McConnell and McCarthy, opinion contributors, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/2mVBXYD
Hong Kong is winning the global public-opinion war with Beijing, by Chris Horton, contributor, The Atlantic. https://bit.ly/2mJ7rkN
WHERE AND WHEN
Hill.TV’s “Rising” at 9 a.m. ET features Jonathan Larsen, managing editor of TYT Investigates, about newly released docs obtained by the outlet about South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and the city’s police department; Paul Steinhauser, a New Hampshire-based political reporter, to update viewers on the New Hampshire primary; and Michael Brooks, host of “The Michael Brooks Show,” for a news update. Find Hill.TV programming at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10 a.m.
The House will meet Tuesday at 9 a.m. for a pro forma session while in recess for two weeks. House committees continue to work at the staff level on the impeachment inquiry against Trump during the fall break.
The Senate convenes Tuesday at noon.
The president this morning participates in an Armed Forces welcome ceremony in honor of the 20th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, who was confirmed by the Senate in July. The event will take place at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia. Trump has lunch today with Vice President Pence. This afternoon, the president speaks at the ceremonial swearing-in of Eugene Scalia as secretary of Labor. The president is scheduled to meet with Pompeo at 4 p.m.
Pence participates in the president’s public schedule throughout the day. Then at 3:30 p.m., the vice president meets in his office with Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
➔ Migration — the deadliest county in America: At least 650 migrants have died in one rural Texas county since 2009 in their failed attempts to cross the U.S. southern border illegally and skirt U.S. checkpoints beyond. Stephanie Leutert, director of the Mexico Security Initiative at the University of Texas at Austin, obtained records from the sheriff of Brooks County, Texas, created a database, and is presenting an intriguing, heart-rending series about the information for Beyond the Border, a collaboration of the Strauss Center for International Security and Law and Lawfare.
Leutert’s introduction, “In the Brush in Brooks County,” is HERE. “I hadn’t expected to see so many women in the case files — certainly not women who carried lipgloss, beaded bracelets and fanny packs. I hadn’t expected to see so many older crossers in their late 50s and 60s, people who were found with reading glasses and who had children and grandchildren already in the United States.”
Part II: Who’s dying in South Texas? “A major theme of these death reports is that poor preparations — from a lack of knowledge about the trek or an inability to obtain better gear — become deadly in the face of the unrelenting natural elements. …In 2018, Central Americans made up two-thirds of all bodies or human remains recovered in Brooks County.”
➔ Migration — Afghanistan: While fleeing with his family from Afghanistan and eventually landing in Hungary, Hassan Fazili made a film using his cell-phone about his family’s hardship. The resulting documentary, “Midnight Traveler,” shows both misery and determination as the refugee family wanders “to the edge of hell” through Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia and on to Hungary to build a better life (The New Yorker). Listen to host Michel Martin’s NPR interview about the film HERE. The documentary’s producer, Emelie Mahdavian, who edited a massive quantity of Fazili’s cell phone video, which was sent to her via circuitous routes over several years, explains how the film came together.
➔ State Watch: The Environmental Protection Agency is attempting to tie California’s water pollution woes to the state’s large population of homeless people. Water quality experts say there is little connection between the two problems (The Hill).
And finally … Who has the patience and dedication in America to perform lonely, isolated work marked by long hours of tedium interrupted by bursts of skill and judgment in an effort to save lives? To answer that question, we’re flagging two feature articles well worth your time this morning.
The Washington Post’s Eli Saslow introduces Dr. Ed Garner, 68, the sole physician responsible for the health and wellbeing of people living and traveling through a “medical desert” — a Texas region east of El Paso as vast as the state of Maryland.
The New York Times’s Ruth Fremson traveled to Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington to profile Russ Dalton, 72, one of the nation’s last fire lookouts, an unpaid volunteer for the past four summers who holes up and maintains a remote cabin with no running water, decorated by some spectacular views.
In their heyday, there were more than 8,000 fire lookouts across the country. Today, the U.S. Forest Service manages 153 lookout posts in Washington and Oregon, but only about 50 are staffed by humans full or part time.