Today’s read: 8 minutes.
Trump’s wild 1,000th day in office, the death of Elijah Cummings and my take on all this craziness.
The White House.
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Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat who was beloved and respected by both Democrats and Republicans, died early this morning. He was 68. Cummings was known for taking principled stands on politically charged issues in the House and for his deep love of Baltimore. He was also remembered for “his calming effect on anti-police riots in Baltimore, and his forceful opposition to the presidency of Donald Trump,” The Washington Post reported. Cummings was born to a family of sharecroppers and Baptist preachers and drew on much of his political experience from growing up in a racially divided Baltimore. He was a civil rights advocate, a moral compass in Congress, and seen as a beacon of truth in what is often a seedy and dramatic world. “Rest in Power” began trending on Twitter as news of his death broke. You can read more about him here.
What D.C. is talking about.
Day 1,000. As one source told Axios, “The Batsh*t Crazy Meter may have gone past the red zone.” A number of hard-to-believe stories came across the wire yesterday. First, a Fox News reporter released a letter President Trump wrote to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that many reporters thought was a parody. It wasn’t. "Let's work out a good deal!” the president wrote on October 9th. “You don't want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don't want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy — and I will. ... Don't be a tough guy. Don't be a fool! I will call you later." You can read the full letter below:
Then, President Trump had a meeting with Congressional leadership, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. During the meeting, Trump crucified his former defense secretary Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis, a four-star Marine general, for being “the world’s most overrated general.” Trump said he “wasn’t tough enough. I captured ISIS. Mattis said it would take two years. I captured them in one month.”
According to a Democratic aide, Trump also told Pelosi that she was a “third-grade politician,” causing Pelosi and House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer to get up and leave the meeting. Earlier in the day, Trump riffed about the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Syria, which has left Kurdish allies under fire from Turkey. "Syria may have some help with Russia, and that’s fine. It’s a lot of sand. They’ve got a lot of sand over there. So there’s a lot of sand that they can play with. But we were supposed to be there for 30 days; we stayed for 10 years. And it’s time for us to come home. ... The Kurds are much safer right now ... They’re not angels, if you take a look."
While all this was happening, the conservative group Club For Growth was spreading a video claiming that Senate Republican Mitt Romney was “colluding” with Democrats to bring down the president. The video was shared by the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr. Romney, a staunch conservative, is one of the few Republican senators who has been forceful about his disgust over Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria.
What Democrats are saying.
First, on the letter: When Trish Reagan, the Fox News reporter, initially tweeted it out, several reporters (including yours truly) questioned its validity. Democrats across the spectrum immediately hit the same talking points they usually do: the president isn’t fit, this is beyond the pale, can you believe he actually thought this would work? Clearly, Erdogan ignored Trump’s poorly worded and cartoonish letter, as the incursion into Syria began later that day.
As for the meeting, Nancy Pelosi told the press that “What we witnessed on the part of the president was a meltdown — sad to say.” Trump responded by immediately accusing Pelosi of being the one who had a “meltdown” (more on that below) and released a photo of the meeting, which he apparently thought depicted her in a negative way. But Democrats immediately contextualized the picture as Nancy Pelosi, the lone woman in the room, literally standing up to Trump. The photo is being idolized. Pelosi even made the picture her cover photo on Twitter.
The White House
In the meantime, Democrats are also criticizing the way Trump has described the situation in Syria. POTUS said yesterday that the situation at the Turkish border was “strategically brilliant” because of a calculated withdrawal that made the troops safe. But reports on the ground paint a vastly different picture. U.S. soldiers are now bombing their own bases as they evacuate, so as not to leave them for the enemy. They are scrambling and under duress, working to get to a different part of the country or into Iraq for safety. And, despite Trump’s claims, they are not “coming home.” There are more troops in the Middle East now than there were when Trump came into office, and he’s moving the ones in Syria to different parts of the country or different parts of the Middle East.
What Republicans are saying.
We’ll start with POTUS. He’s been accusing Pelosi of exactly what she accused him of, saying she had a “meltdown” and stormed out while everyone else in the room stayed to work “on behalf of the country.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he saw a “pattern of behavior with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She storms out of another meeting, trying to make it unproductive. The other Democrats stayed and actually had a very productive meeting."
As for the letter, I couldn’t find any Republicans who were commenting on it or defending it. On Lou Dobbs’ Fox News show, the conservative host was running a segment about Hillary Clinton’s emails. Sean Hannity hosted Donald Trump Jr., and the two spent the night criticizing Hunter Biden for his nepotism. While Trump heads to Texas for a rally, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took off on a flight to Turkey to meet Erdogan. The goal of the meeting, according to press reports, is to talk Erdogan into a cease-fire. But the odds of that seem increasingly low. As Mitt Romney said yesterday, the “horses have left the barn.”
Yesterday was bonkers. As I’ve said before, the best way to predict Trump’s position on something is based on who the last person he spoke to was. And the best way to guess what is his next insult will be is to look at whatever he’s been called recently. Yesterday was no different. Pelosi said he had a meltdown, so Trump started pointing back at Pelosi and claiming she had a meltdown.
Amidst all this insanity, though, there was a lot of important news. Sometimes it’s easy to forget this isn’t just reality television, no matter how much drama Democrats and Trump add to the mix. Here is a breakdown of some real news from yesterday:
- The House voted 354-60 to condemn Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria. That’s one of the strongest condemnations of Trump yet. Click for more.
- Trump’s letter was sent on the same exact day the Turkish invasion began. The BBC reported that Erodgan threw the letter in the trash and one official said, "The date on the letter is 9 October, the same day we began Operation Peace Spring. Our president gave the best response by launching the operation on the same day at 4pm.” For a NATO ally and world leader to so blatantly ignore the President of the United States is no small thing. Click for more.
- In a Wall Street Journal exclusive, Republican Rick Perry told the paper that Trump wouldn’t schedule a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and told him to call Giuliani to hear why. Giuliani claims it was for all the reasons he’s said on television — that he was still concerned about Ukranian corruption. But liberal pundits immediately seized the news as proof that Trump knew what he was doing was wrong (pressuring Zelensky to open an investigation into Biden) and didn’t want to tell Perry himself. It’s also further evidence that Giuliani was running foreign policy as Trump’s private lawyer. Click for more.
- Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, broke sharply from Trump during testimony today, telling House impeachment investigators that he opposed the president’s request to run Ukraine policy through Rudy Giuliani. Sondland says when he contacted Giuliani, Giuliani drew a direct link between scheduling a White House visit for Zelensky and Ukranian officials opening an investigation into Joe Biden. Previously, Sondland had denied the existence of a quid pro quo (he still denies any knowledge of one) and Trump had used the denial as proof he was innocent. Click for more.
- ProPublica published a piece on Trump’s tax returns which details how he inflated numbers to make his Manhattan buildings appear more profitable to lenders and deflated them to make them appear less profitable to officials who set the buildings’ property tax. The word for that is fraud. Click for more.
- Finally, on Syria: Like I’ve said before, I appreciate the president’s purported instincts to have fewer soldiers overseas in the Middle East. But as much as his rhetoric about bringing soldiers home is music to my ears, it appears to be bluster. Fox News’ Pentagon reporter Lucas Tomlinson said this week that since May, U.S. forces “have increased in the Middle East by ~14,000.” The ones in Syria left so hastily they are now bombing U.S. belongings so other combatants can’t take over the bases. Erdogan is throwing letters from the president in the trash. U.S. soldiers aren’t coming home from Syria — they’re moving elsewhere. And the situation in northern Syria is degrading so quickly that Middle East experts are describing it as “worst-case scenario come true.” Click for more.
Your questions, answered.
Reminder: The reason I started Tangle is to help simplify the news for people, and to do a better job giving the full spectrum of opinions out there. Send in questions you want answered by simply replying to this email or tweeting at me. I’ll get back to you in the newsletter as soon as I can.
Q: Is the ongoing series of debates ultimately good for the Democrats in that lots of people are getting lots of airtime to talk about a lot of things? Or is this going to cause voter exhaustion? Is there any narrative emerging here?
- Mick, Pittsburgh, PA
Tangle: This is a fascinating question and one I don’t think we talk about enough. The first thing that came to mind when I read your question is the number of people who are actually following the election right now. It’s one of the few poll questions that is rarely referred to this time during an election cycle, mostly because it makes the horse-race politics of the election less important. The most recent Quinnipiac poll, which came out on October 14th, asked: “How much attention have you been paying to the election campaign for president; a lot, some, only a little, or none at all?”
54 percent of registered voters said “A lot,” 25 percent said “some,” 11 percent said “only a little” and 9 percent said “none at all.” To be clear: that means one fifth of registered voters say they are paying attention only a little or none at all to the current presidential race, which doesn’t even take into account all the people who will register to vote over the next year. That just 54 percent of registered voters are following closely is telling. And, even more importantly, just 43 percent of independent voters said they are following closely right now.
In that sense, I think the answer to your question is almost a draw. A lot of people just aren’t paying that much attention. If you’re reading this newsletter (good job!), you’re ahead of a fifth of America and probably doing more than about half the country to keep up.
Now, politically, I think there is both upside and downside to all these debates. On one hand, every time there is a debate, lesser-known politicians like Buttigieg and Yang and Harris get to make their pitch to the country and pick up voters. That’s important, and a lot of them haven’t gotten to hammer their message out to a huge audience. 8.3 million people watched the debate live on television, which was a steep drop off from the 14 million who watched the debate last month (perhaps that’s the fatigue you’re asking about?). Still, that’s a lot of people — and all the coverage in newsletters like Tangle, newspapers like The New York Times and on social media can do a lot to move the needle. So in that sense: positives for the candidates.
An underrated negative here, though, is that they have to be consistent. Aside from Sanders — who gives the same speech and rails the same points almost every time he takes the stage — every Democratic nominee has evolved or flip-flopped on certain issues as a politician. As public opinion shifts on major campaign issues, I promise you those flip-flops will keep coming. So what some of these candidates are saying now will be different from what they are saying in October of 2020, when a national audience that includes Republicans will be tuning in to decide who to vote for. Nearly every election cycle, candidates shift more to the middle as things go on — because that’s what is politically wisest to win. You might remember that in Trump’s final months of campaigning, he conceded that Obama was in fact born in America, sporadically changed his position on abortion, and claimed that he would “soften” his position on immigration and adopt a policy more like Obama’s. All of that happened in the final months leading up to the campaign.
With the liberal base the way it is, those flip flops are not going to go well. So in that sense, I think a lot of the debates happening now are going to come back and bite finalists down the stretch. Every word they’ve uttered on national TV is going to be used against them, and the tiniest changes on policy will be elevated by the left and the right. You already saw it in one of the first debates when Democrats were asked who would give free health care to undocumented immigrants. Each candidate raised their hand on stage, and the months-old image is still being used in conservative political ads. In the same debate, Kamala Harris was one of the candidates who raised her hand when asked if she would eliminate private health insurance. She walked the hand raise back just days later.
All in all, I think the debates are going cause voter exhaustion and draw out some hypocrisy with all the people who are already tuned in. But for those who aren’t paying attention yet, the final debates early next year will be an important part of gauging who they vote for. The real question is who will be left to choose from?
A story that matters.
Tens of thousands of teachers in Chicago are planning to go on strike today, just after 49,000 union workers at General Motors went on strike across the country. GM’s union says they have reached a deal that will give out bonuses, let workers stay on their health care and help some people transition into full-time roles. Now, Chicago teachers are hoping to move the needle with a strike of their own, asking for smaller classes and more attention to youth homelessness. Chicago’s new mayor is trying to work things out, but so far it’s not going well. Schools will be open, but teachers won’t be there to instruct classes and buses won’t be running. About 300,000 students will be impacted. You can read about Chicago here and GM here.
- 160,000. The number of Kurds who have fled the area where Turkey began it’s invasion last week.
- 72. The number of civilian casualties during the incursion, according to the Syrian Human Rights observatory.
- $631 billion. The cost of the opioid crisis in America over just four years (2015-2018).
- 400,000. The low-end estimate of how many Americans have died from opioid-related deaths since 2000.
- $27.3 million. The record amount of money the Republican National Committee raised in September alone.
- $49.6 million. The amount raised by Democratic nominee Tom Steyer in the third quarter of this year, the most of any Democrat.
- 95.9 percent. The amount of Tom Steyer’s fundraising haul that came from his own pocket.
- 4.1 percent. The amount of Tom Steyer’s fundraising hall that came from individual donors.
- $1.6 billion. Tom Steyer’s estimated net worth.
Welcome to the “Splash Zone.”
Someone had their camera on Italy’s translator during Trump’s scrum with the press in the Oval Office yesterday. Her look says a lot.
Have a nice day.
It’s not exactly good news (since its very existence is dark and horrifying), but the IRS just took down the world’s largest child pornography site on the internet. The IRS Criminal Investigation tracked down the users by tracing bitcoin transactions on the site to people all over the world who were uploading and downloading the material. They also located the site administrator. A 23-year-old in South Korea was indicted for operating the site and is in custody. 337 site users have been arrested in 38 countries, including in 23 states in the United States. You can read more here.
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