Today’s read: 8 minutes.
New testimony will accelerate the impeachment inquiry, a question about the trade deal Democrats won’t pass, and California is on fire.
Images of a 2012 California wildfire. U.S. Air Force / Sg. Dennis W. Goff
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What D.C. is talking about.
This lede from The New York Times says it all: “A White House national security official who is a decorated Iraq war veteran plans to tell House impeachment investigators on Tuesday that he heard President Trump appeal to Ukraine’s president to investigate one of his leading political rivals, a request the aide considered so damaging to American interests that he reported it to a superior.” Alexander S. Vindman, an active Army officer who is an expert on Ukraine, will testify today based on his own “sense of duty.” His testimony is expected to add to the mounting evidence against Trump, and he will become the first White House official to testify who was actually on the phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky that set the impeachment proceedings into motion. You can read his opening statement here. The news comes just hours after House Democrats announced their intention to hold their first formal vote on impeachment proceedings Thursday in order to formalize the process on how to handle the inquiry publicly going forward.
What Republicans are saying.
As far as Vindman goes, it looks like Republicans will lean on the conservative media to discredit him. Last night, Fox News took the extraordinary step of hosting John Yoo, the lawyer who helped legitimize the War on Terror and legalize torture by the CIA. Yoo was on Laura Ingraham’s show and accused Vindman, a Ukrainian-American who speaks both Ukrainian and English, of “espionage.” Ingraham seemingly implied that he was a double-agent working against President Trump’s interests, noting that he is often speaking a different language. Former Republican Rep. Sean Duffy mounted an almost identical attack on CNN. Never-Trump conservatives immediately spoke out about the angle of attack, saying it was disgusting for Trump supporters to smear an Army veteran for telling the truth.
On the impeachment vote, House Republicans are saying that the existence of the vote, 34 days after the inquiry began, proves the process has been a sham from the start. The closed-door hearings and evidence-gathering phases have been rife with leaks, biased media coverage and cherry-picked testimony, Republicans say. Now Democrats are trying to formalize that process with a vote that should have happened before the inquiry began. Republicans in the Senate are exasperated by having to defend every new development, The Washington Post reported. Several Republicans began saying that they will no longer comment on developments in the impeachment inquiry since they will be “acting as jurors” if the impeachment is formalized and sent to the Senate for trial. Check out these quotes in a Washington Post story about the state of the party:
“I’m a juror and I’m comfortable not speaking,” Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) said. Pressed again for comment, he reiterated, “I said I’m comfortable not speaking.”
“I’d be a juror, so I have no comment,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said.
“I don’t need a strategy for impeachment because I may be a juror someday,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said.
What Democrats are saying.
For weeks, Republicans have been saying that they wanted to hear from someone who had firsthand knowledge of President Trump’s phone call with Zelensky. Now they have it, and they’re refusing to accept what the person is telling them. Not only that, but they’re turning their ire against a decorated war hero with a Purple Heart and a deep understanding of U.S. relations with Ukraine. No one embodied this hypocrisy more than Sen. Lindsey Graham, who repeatedly demanded that someone with firsthand knowledge of the call come forward. But now that Vindman’s forthcoming testimony was leaked to The New York Times, this was Graham’s response:
As for the formal vote on impeachment, Democrats say that the vote is happening to keep everything above board. Now Republicans are using the vote to claim that everything which came before it was illegitimate. Democrats say they are holding the vote to put moderate Republicans’ feet to the fire and to make sure they lay out clear rules for how to conduct the inquiry in public, as they plan to bring testimony from behind closed doors out into the open over the next few weeks. They also want to make it clear that the White House cannot withhold documents or stop witness testimony by formalizing the impeachment inquiry as much as they can.
Vindman’s testimony is another damning piece of evidence against the president, and it’s good it’s been made public. As a reporter and citizen, I’m almost always “pro-leak,” so I am interested in more information and transparency, not less. Vindman now joins Fiona Hill and Bill Taylor, two other top U.S. diplomats, who have testified under oath that Trump was pressuring the Ukrainian president in a quid pro quo situation to open an investigation into Joe Biden or Burisma, the company whose board Biden’s son sat on. We also have the White House transcript, the whistleblower complaint, and varying degrees of admissions from Trump, Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani. There’s also deeply sourced reporting that former National Security Advisor John Bolton was alarmed by how Trump and Giuliani were handling Ukraine. So far, the only diplomat who insisted there was no quid pro quo was Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who said he wasn’t aware of any such arrangement. But he later changed his testimony and agreed there was a quid pro quo, according to The Wall Street Journal.
As for the formal impeachment inquiry vote: there’s reasonable cases being made on both sides. Yes, Democrats could have done this weeks ago, though it would have been even more politically dangerous than it is now. This vote isn’t an official impeachment resolution, but it’s going to force several moderate Democrats in districts with lots of Trump support to cast a vote on impeachment anyway, and Pelosi knows it’s a dangerous game. Doing it now keeps the vote as far from 2020 elections as is possible, and I assume that’s a top priority for House Democrats. All that being said, Democrats have also said this is exactly how they would go about the inquiry for some time: collect evidence behind closed doors, inform the various committees about what they find, then formalize the inquiry to bring that evidence forward to the public. Most cries about this being a sham process have been part of a Republican strategy to hold the line for Trump, as various leaks of Republican talking points in Congress have shown. The rattled Senate Republicans who refuse to rule out removing Trump, even as they sign off on resolutions condemning the inquiry, should send deep worry through the White House.
Your questions, answered.
Reminder: Tangle is built around a mission to answer reader questions. I wade through the news so you don’t have to. If you have a question you want answered, you can send it in by simply replying to this email.
Q: Why isn’t the House signing the USMCA?
- Marco, Seattle, WA.
Tangle: The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, also known as USMCA, is Donald Trump’s plan to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which both far-left Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Trump-like Republicans have railed against. Even though most Democrats prefer USMCA to NAFTA, they have dragged their feet on passing the new trade deal, mostly over specifics on how enforcement of new regulation would work. The deal has been signed by the U.S., Canada and Mexico, but now needs to be ratified by Congress. Perhaps the biggest change from NAFTA in the USMCA is around car manufacturers, especially those on the border in Mexico near Texas. 75 percent of an automobile’s components must have their parts manufactured in Mexico, Canada or the U.S., up from 62.5 percent under NAFTA. But more importantly, 40 to 45 percent of those parts must be made by workers who are earning at least $16 an hour by 2023.
That labor provision, which is essentially a minimum wage for almost half of the automobile industry’s workers in Mexico, is very contentious. Democrats have said they won’t sign onto the deal until there is a satisfactory enforcement method to ensure those laborers are being paid the $16 an hour minimum wage. Democrats have suggested enforcement via factory inspection, an idea that has been rejected by many Mexican officials and U.S. Republicans. Other Democrats in Texas have expressed concerns about security on the highways between Mexico and the U.S., and have said that they won’t sign the deal until Mexico commits to increasing security along those routes.
Other top issues for Democrats include regulating cross-border pollution and reducing Big Pharma drug prices. Both Fox News and POLITICO have reported in the last few days that the areas of concern for Democrats has shrunk dramatically in the last few weeks, and a deal is close to being cut. Richard Neal, the House Ways and Means Chairman, said “a lot” of issues were figured out and he was feeling “pretty good” about the odds of the trade deal passing. Both Democrats and Republicans have a lot of motivation to get the deal done. For Democrats, passing USMCA would prove they can walk and chew gum at the same time, both investigating POTUS and handing workers a win across North America. For Trump and Republicans, passing USMCA would be a significant policy win that allows Trump to tell voters he fulfilled his promise of getting rid of NAFTA (even though the trade deals are very similar).
My guess is USMCA is ratified by the end of the year, given that Democrats don’t want to give credence to Trump’s accusations that they’re “do nothing” politicians. But there are significant barriers to it passing, mostly around the finer points on enforcing the deal, and this kind of legislation always takes a lot of time and give and take.
A story that matters.
All across the globe, and right here in America, mass protests are growing in popularity, are being widely covered, and are successfully pushing back on world leaders or government bodies of all stripes. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning, a two-minute segment ran on why those protests are happening and gave a brief look into some of the places being affected:
High winds in California are causing chaos. Hurricane-force winds are helping spread more than a dozen wildfires across the state. Some electric companies have shut down power to reduce the possibility of downed lines and transmissions towers sparking fires. More than 600,000 Californians will lose power Tuesday as part of a series of blackouts to help slow down the blazes and more than 1 million customers already lost power in the last week. Tens of thousands of people are evacuating homes across California. You can read more about the chaotic scene here.
- 56. The percentage of 8 to 12-year-olds who watch online videos every day.
- 24. The percentage of 8 to 12-year-olds who watched online videos every day in 2015, the last time the survey was conducted.
- 4 hours and 44 minutes. The average time, per day, 8 to 12-year-old Americans spend on “digital devices.”
- 500. The number of employees Juul plans to lay off by the end of the year, just as the vaping industry faces rising concerns about the safety of its products.
- 200,000. The number of Salvadoran citizens living and working in the U.S. who received protections from deportation after the Trump administration reversed course on a plan to cut their temporary work status.
- 3,039.42 The all-time high close for the S&P 500 yesterday as progress in U.S.-China trade talks spread in the media.
Have a nice day.
A cancer patient on his way to final treatment won a $200,000 lottery prize. The Washington Post reported that the patient was on his way to his last chemotherapy session when he stopped to buy a $1 lottery ticket at a Short Stop Food Mart. He won $5, and then opted to trade that winning ticket in for two more. And one of those was a $200,000 prize. He went home with $141,501 after taxes. Click.