The impeachment wars

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The impeachment wars

There is a roiling debate in Democratic circles as we approach the November midterm elections: Should people talk about impeaching Donald Trump?

There are reasonable grounds for impeachment. The most straightforward justification is the income from foreign governments Trump still receives through his hotels and other properties. Last week, a federal judge ruled that Trump’s income from foreign governments as president was a prohibited “emolument” under Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Constitution.

There is also the issue of obstruction of justice. Trump went on national TV and said that he fired former FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation into a possible conspiracy between his campaign and Russia.

I could go on. But the point is that if Democrats retake control of the House of Representatives in November, the impeachment of Trump is a real possibility. There is a dispute about whether, over the next few months, it should even be discussed.

In one corner: Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi believes impeachment is a political loser and is urging members of the House Democratic caucus not to discuss it.

“I don’t think we should be talking about impeachment… On the political side I think it’s a gift to the Republicans,” Pelosi said in an April press briefing. The theory is that, by raising the specter of impeachment, it will motivate Republicans to turn out to the polls in November.

Instead, Pelosi believes, Democrats should talk about pocketbook issues that impact voters. “We want to talk about what they’re doing to undermine working families in our country and what we are doing to increase their payrolls and lower their costs,” Pelosi argued.

In the other corner: Tom Steyer

Tom Steyer, who made his fortune as a hedge fund manager before devoting himself to progressive political advocacy, thinks Pelosi is wrong. He’s spending tens of millions of dollars to make his case.

Kevin Mack, the veteran political strategist who is running Steyer’s “Need to Impeach” campaign, told me that pushing for impeachment is the “morally correct thing to do” because someone needs to hold Trump accountable.

Resistance to impeachment talk, Mack says, is “the normal knee-jerk reaction in Washington DC -- if it's not what you are used to, attack it.”

The Steyer position is that the old way of doing things isn’t working. “Democrats are at the lowest level of representation since the 1930s. The strategy we are using as a party is failing. It's time for something new and something else. And it is as simple as telling the truth to people,” Mack said.  

The implication is that most Democratic representatives believe, at least privately, that Trump deserves to be impeached. So Steyer’s position is that they should be up front with voters about their views.

Beginning in 2017, Steyer bought TV ads promoting his impeachment campaign and used it to build an email database of 5.5 million people. That’s larger than the NRA’s email list. While the television campaign has ended, Mack says Need to Impeach will launch a sophisticated effort to mobilize this group in key races in 2018.

Steyer’s allies in Congress

While most of the Democratic caucus has fallen in line with Pelosi, Steyer has some allies in the House.

Congressman Al Green (D-TX) forced a vote on two privileged resolutions calling for Trump’s impeachment on the basis of various racist remarks, including describing participants in a white nationalist march as “very fine people.” (Impeachment is a political process and doesn’t technically require a criminal act.) The most recent vote, on January 19, 2018, garnered 66 Democratic votes. (121 Democrats opposed the resolution.)

Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) introduced an impeachment resolution in November 2017 against Trump, citing various crimes including obstruction of justice and violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. It currently has 17 co-sponsors.

Congresswomen Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Praymila Jayapal (D-WA) have also been outspoken proponents of impeachment.

What do the people want?

A recent CNN poll found that 42% of Americans want Trump to be impeached and 51% oppose impeachment. On the one hand, it shows the majority of Americans don’t want Trump to be impeached. On the other hand, support for Trump’s impeachment is roughly the same level as support for Nixon’s impeachment three months before he was forced to resign.

Some earlier polling showed a plurality supporting impeachment.

Internal polling conducted by Steyer’s group in June found that the majority of Republicans are not that worried about the prospect of impeachment, suggesting it would not be a strong factor driving them to the polls.

What we are really talking about when we are talking about the politics of impeachment

The debate over whether to talk about impeachment is a proxy for a larger discussion about strategy in the Democratic party.

Should Democrats seek to regain the support of voters who supported Obama but switched to Trump in 2016? These voters outnumbered those who switched to Clinton after supporting Romney. If so, talking about impeachment may backfire as these moderate voters might view it as a radical measure.

Or should Democrats seek to energize young people and others who do not have a long voting history? If so, talking about a bold step like impeachment, alongside a more forceful policy agenda, could motivate them to get to the polls.

Facebook data monster wants to eat your bank account info

Facebook isn’t satisfied with how much it knows about you; now it’s after your bank balance.

“The social-media giant has asked large U.S. banks to share detailed financial information about their customers, including card transactions and checking-account balances, as part of an effort to offer new services to users,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

The news comes after the revelation that Cambridge Analytica, the controversial data firm that worked with the Trump campaign, accessed “87 million Facebook users without their consent.”

At least one bank “pulled away from talks due to privacy concerns.”

Facebook’s story

Facebook says it is going to use the bank data to power chatbots, not advertising. According to the company, linking your bank account data with Facebook would allow you to use Facebook Messenger to check your balance. A Facebook spokeswoman described the program as “completely opt-in.”

Why Facebook’s stock price went up

To ordinary people, the Wall Street Journal report seemed like an exposé of shady business practices.

Investors, however, celebrated the report. Facebook’s stock, which had been slumping, surged over 4%.

It’s important to understand why. Facebook is in the business of collecting as much data about you as possible and then turning that data into cash. If it comes up with an idea to get more information about its users, that makes it a better company.

Maybe Facebook wouldn’t initially allow advertisers to target users based on this information, but Facebook will figure out a way to make money from the new program. Investors understand this and drove the stock price up.

It comes down to trust

Linking your banking account to Facebook could theoretically be innocuous. But to believe that, you have to trust the company to both protect the data and not use it beyond the initial stated purpose.

Facebook’s recent conduct has not engendered trust. That’s why many people online are reacting poorly to the idea.

Shot/Chaser: The Trump endorsement

Shot: Senior Republicans advise Trump against endorsing extremist Kris Kobach for Governor of Kansas and think they may have “convinced him to hold off.” From Axios, on August 5:

Senior Republican officials have told me they're holding their breath, hoping Trump won't endorse hardliner Kris Kobach in Tuesday's Kansas gubernatorial primary. Kobach is as far right as a Republican gets on immigration and voting rights, and Democrats view his potential victory as an opportunity to steal centrist voters.

A source close to Trump told me they thought the president had been convinced to hold off on supporting Kobach. But he added he couldn't be confident, given that Trump is in Bedminster with a cell phone and plenty of Executive Time.


Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump

Kris Kobach, a strong and early supporter of mine, is running for Governor of the Great State of Kansas. He is a fantastic guy who loves his State and our Country - he will be a GREAT Governor and has my full & total Endorsement! Strong on Crime, Border & Military. VOTE TUESDAY!

August 6, 2018
Republicans in Kansas are fearful that a Kobach victory in Tuesday’s primary “would provide Democrats an opening to take back the governorship.” Kobach’s name at the top of the ballot could energize “Democrats in a pair of competitive Kansas congressional races.”

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