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Today’s read: 8 minutes.
A New York Times “bombshell,” Elizabeth Warren’s bad news, and a Medicare story.
Photo: Flickr | Gage Skidmore
Happy Thanksgiving! Turkey day is the biggest holiday of the year in my family, so I’ll be taking off from Tangle tomorrow to spend some time with them. You, too, should give yourself a break from the news. You can expect an abbreviated Tangle on Friday with what you missed. Enjoy the day, gain a few pounds, and feel free to write in if you have some questions!
Some conservatives have turned on Chic-Fil-A after the fast-food chain announced it’d no longer donate money to Christian groups that held anti-LGBT views.
What D.C. is talking about.
President Donald Trump knew about the whistleblower complaint against him when he released the frozen military aid to Ukraine in September, according to a New York Times report. Lawyers from the White House counsel apparently told Trump about the whistleblower complaint, which eventually set off the impeachment inquiry, in late August. The news adds context to two critical moments being examined by impeachment investigators: In September, Trump released close to $400 million of aid that Democrats claim he was using to pressure Ukrainian officials into investigating Joe Biden and his son. Also in September, Trump denied a “quid pro quo” in a phone call with EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland. Whether Trump knew about the whistleblower complaint could help explain his motives for both decisions.
What the left is saying.
If Trump knew about the whistleblower complaint, it adds to the pile of evidence that he released aid to Ukraine only when the jig was up. For months, Democrats have said that the aid release — which came after investigations were announced into Trump and Giuliani — was not out of concern for Ukraine or because Trump came to believe Ukraine had its corruption under control (as Republicans have claimed) but instead because his plan to pressure Ukraine’s president had blown up. Trump’s knowledge of the complaint would also make sense given that he gave an explicit, specific denial of wanting a “quid pro quo” in a phone call with Sondland. "The reason the aid was produced was that the whistleblower had come forward at that point," CNN's Jeffrey Toobin said Tuesday. "Basically, the Trump administration was busted. They got caught, and that's the reason they released the money."
What the right is saying.
Throughout the impeachment hearings, Republicans have made the case that Trump released the aid when Trump heard positive assessments about Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky. Several Trump allies have spent time with Zelensky in Ukraine and returned with positive assessments in late summer. But Byron York in the Washington Examiner posed a different explanation: he noted that the White House received a continuing resolution spending bill on September 11th that was going to push the Ukraine money “out the door” at the end of 2019 or early 2020, “regardless of what the president did.” York posits that this, not Trump’s knowledge of the complaint (which came 12 days before) or Trump’s aides reporting back on Zelensky, was the real reason Trump let the aid go. York says it was an unremarkable end to a story: president tries something, Congress fights it, the president sees he has no support and backs down. Here is how York ends his piece: “In the end, the release of the aid is not dramatic proof of anything in the Trump-Ukraine matter. The facts do not support the Democratic notion that the president "got caught," knew he was guilty, and gave in. It is not a smoking gun. It is a story of a president and Congress bumping up against each other on spending, and, as often happens, Congress won.”
I think York has a pretty good assessment here, and I’m not sure this Times story is the smoking gun a lot of liberals seem to think it is. That being said, I also don’t think York’s explanation — that Trump simply folded to Congress and released the aid — absolves him or makes this an innocent act. York isn’t arguing that explicitly, of course, but the implication is there given what he’s responding too. The reality remains that Trump was withholding aid against the wishes of his entire diplomatic apparatus, Congress, and our ally Ukraine. And several witnesses testified that — at the very least — a White House meeting was being held in exchange for investigations into Biden and the 2016 election. They also all seemed to independently come to the conclusion that military aid was part of that trade, a consensus that tells a story on its own. As Gordon Sondland said, “two plus two equals four.” It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that the whistleblower complaint and Congress’s move to push the aid out together made Trump realize he had to give up the plan and send the money.
Your questions, answered.
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Q: How bad are these new poll numbers for Elizabeth Warren?
- Brent, Miami, FL.
Tangle: Bad. Very bad. It’s a bit tough to know just how bad, given that polling places occasionally have outliers, but I would be very worried if I were a Warren fan or someone on her campaign.
For those of you just catching up, yesterday, Quinnipiac released its latest national polls in the Democratic primary. Quinnipiac is one of the most trusted and most-watched polling outfits in the country, and the news was pretty flat for everyone — except Warren. Since October 24th, just a month ago, Warren took a 14-point nosedive. She went from first place with 28 percent of Democratic voters supporting her candidacy to third place with 14 percent of Democratic voters supporting her candidacy. Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg both passed her (Buttigieg went from 10 percent to 16 percent, and Biden went from 21 percent to 24 percent). Here is a good tweet summing up the movement of the last month:
A few things are notably bad about the poll and its timing for Warren. First, we’re just two months out from the Iowa caucuses, and national polls are typically good at predicting primary election winners. To have two “moderates” leading the Democratic primary at this stage, and to see Warren and Sanders both falling, is bad news for the progressive left clinging onto their candidacies.
Secondly, Warren was briefly the frontrunner at the end of October. As a result, she took on fire from fellow Democrats about Medicare-for-All and from the right about her most progressive policies. Key to her election prospects is her showing an ability to sustain momentum against those attacks from moderates and Republicans. In the last month, she didn’t. Not only did Warren’s numbers fall, but so did support for Medicare-for-All and belief in Warren’s policies. In October, 40 percent of voters said Warren had the best policy ideas. In the latest poll, that number was down to 23. When the slogan of your campaign is “I have a plan for that,” it’s pretty important for people to like your plans. Right now, it doesn’t look like the Democratic base is buying Warren’s plans.
So, what’s the bright side? Is there an upside? Not really. But there is an optimistic take on it. Most importantly, outliers happen in polls. In August, Monmouth University released a poll showing a three-way-tie between Biden, Warren and Sanders. The poll was huge, headline news as it showed Biden had been caught by Warren and Sanders. But a couple of days later, after other polls showed Biden still in a commanding lead, Monmouth’s polling director released a statement saying the poll was an outlier. Part of his statement was illuminating. He said, “In the end, we must put out the numbers we have. They should always be viewed in the context of what other polls are saying, not only as it applies to the horse race, but also for our understanding of the issues that motivate voters in their decision-making process.”
That applies here, too. Nate Silver still has Warren’s national average at 17.3 percent, behind Biden (26.1 percent) and above Sanders and Buttigieg. We’ll see what other polls show in the coming weeks, but this is the first warning shot that Warren’s campaign might be slipping. Unfortunately for Warren, the first new poll to come out today mirrored Quinnipiac’s in several ways:
A story that matters.
The Trump administration recently redesigned a Medicare Cost Finder tool that allows seniors to compare complex health insurance options. According to an investigation from ProPublica, the tool is “malfunctioning with alarming frequency, offering inaccurate cost estimates and creating chaos in some states during the open enrollment period.” In some instances, the tool has been misrepresenting per month cost of medicine by as much as $2,700. You can read more here.
- 29%. The increase in death rates among people aged 25 to 34 between 2010 and 2017.
- $310,000. The amount of money Democrat Phil Arballo, who is challenging Rep. Devin Nunes in California, has raised since impeachment hearings began on Nov. 13.
- 25%. The percentage of white, Democratic voters without a degree who said they support Pete Buttigieg in the latest Quinnipiac poll, the highest of any candidate.
- 220,000. The average monthly job growth during Obama’s last 30 months in office.
- 191,000. The average monthly job growth during Trump’s first 30 months in office.
- 70%. The rate with which apprehensions at the border have declined since May.
Have a nice day.
Twenty years ago, Robert VanSumeran was sentenced to prison for a series of robberies by Hillsdale County Circuit Court Judge Michael Smith. This week, the same judge swore VanSumeran in as an attorney. It was the dramatic ending to a long redemption story in which VanSumeran turned his life around after six years in prison and ended up becoming an attorney. You can read more about his story here.