Also, I answer a question about reader mail.
Today’s read: 7 minutes.
We’re covering the public impeachment hearings, a story about the environment and a question about what a partisan hack I am.
A screenshot of CNN’s coverage of the impeachment hearing.
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What D.C. is talking about.
Impeachment. Today, the first public impeachment hearings began at 10 a.m. First up is Ambassador Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, who told impeachment investigators privately that it was his “clear understanding” there would be no military aid for Ukraine until its president announced the investigations Trump wanted. Taylor is a longtime Ukrainian diplomat who served under George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Second is George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, who testified under oath that Trump wanted Zelensky to say three things in exchange for a White House meeting and military aid: “investigations, Biden and Clinton.”
What the right is saying.
Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the intelligence committee and a staunch Trump supporter, used his opening statement to excoriate Democrats. He warned of secret meetings, cult-like stuff in the basement of the Capitol, a one-sided process, auditions for witnesses in closed-door hearings, and claimed that Democrats pivoted to Ukraine the day after their “Russigate hoax” imploded.
Throughout the hearings, four main defenses are going to be used by Republican members of Congress today: The original call transcript shows no pressure, Trump and Zelensky have both insisted there was no quid pro quo, the Ukrainian government was not aware of the withheld aid at the time of the July 25th call, and Trump both met with Zelensky and released the aid without investigations into Biden (which was the alleged quid pro quo). They also plan to attack the process as a sham, contend that the most explosive testimony comes from people who never had a conversation with Trump, and argue that people like Kurt Volker — who had the most access to Trump — said there was no quid pro quo. Some Republicans are even conceding (off the record) that they will cut the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani loose and throw him under the bus if they need to since a lot of this appears to be his doing. Speaking of Giuliani, he laid out a defense for Trump in The Wall Street Journal here.
What the left is saying.
All of these diplomats just mysteriously decided to pressure Ukraine into investigations without direction from the president? Fat chance. Democrats and liberals have found the right’s defenses of the president laughable. They’re calling what the president did “extortion” and “bribery” now, instead of a quid pro quo, because they expect that language to land with more Americans. The top Democrat on the intelligence committee, Adam Schiff, used his opening statement to explain why the withheld aid to Ukraine was so important and why what Trump did was so damaging. Meanwhile, Republicans keep moving the goalposts. First, there was no quid pro quo, then there was but it wasn’t an impeachable offense. First, they needed someone who was on the call, then they got someone and that didn’t matter. First, they wanted the transcripts released, then they claimed the transcript releases were selective. First, they wanted a public impeachment inquiry, and now Republican Senators are saying they won’t even watch the inquiry because the whole thing is a sham. Greg Sargeant of The Washington Post dissected some of the Republican’s top defenses here.
At this point, I don’t think there is any question about whether Trump was pressuring Zelensky into investigating the Biden family. Republicans and Giuliani can protest all they want, but the evidence just keeps piling up. Perhaps most damning is The New York Times report and corroborating testimony that Zelensky had bowed to Trump’s demands and was preparing to go on CNN to announce the investigations into 2016 as well as Joe and Hunter Biden. He was only saved when news of the withheld aid broke in the U.S. and an uproar from Congress forced Trump’s hand, which led to Zelensky immediately cancel the appearance (again, proof that he was pressured and didn’t actually want to do it). Nearly every diplomat involved in this understood that Trump and Giuliani wanted Ukrainian leadership to open an investigation into Hunter Biden. And every single diplomat concedes that military aid was withheld for most of the summer. The difference between Trump’s defenders, of which there are few, and the ones saying there was an obvious quid pro quo, is that some are drawing a line between those two things and others aren’t. But how dense do you have to be to not see the connection?
The reality is this is a question about whether this is an impeachable offense. Historically speaking, you could make a perfectly fine case that this is no worse an offense than things other presidents have gotten away with. In fact, some Republicans are considering that strategy: “the conduct was bad, but not impeachable.” What’s infuriating for now is that the president’s supporters continue to tell us up is down, down is up, and then refuse to look at the evidence presented in the inquiry. There is plenty to say about the tactics Democrats have used or the left-leaning politics of some of the folks testifying this week, but the simple truth is the president did it. He was pressuring Ukraine with military aid to investigate a political rival. If you want to make the case that’s bad but not impeachable, I’m all ears. But saying it didn’t happen is, at this point, laughable.
Your questions, answered.
Reminder: You can write in with questions about politics or Tangle anytime you want. All you have to do is click “reply” to this email and write in — it will go straight to my inbox. I love hearing from readers and often keep up a correspondence, as anyone who has written in will attest, so don’t be shy!
Q: How often do you get replies to your newsletter accusing you of having a partisan slant?
- Zach, Cincinnati, OH.
Tangle: Nearly every day! Which, in my opinion, is a good thing. My first journalism teacher told me that if you’re not getting hate mail you’re doing something wrong. Good reporting and truthful reporting is usually going to upset someone. Of course, that’s not a tried and true method: sometimes people write in furiously because I actually got something wrong or misrepresented a view. In that case, I will almost always include that correction or perspective in the next newsletter.
I typically hear gripes from people with left-leaning views, but I think that’s probably because my politics are more left than right and so a lot of the readers who follow my work have politics that are more left than right. In other words, I suspect there are more liberals reading my newsletter than conservatives, but that’s something I want to poll down the line.
Usually, the replies aren’t directly contending that I have a partisan slant. I think that’s because the structure of the newsletter allows me to be transparent about what my opinion is, so there is nothing being held under the table. Often times, readers are refuting the language I use in a certain section or expressing disappointment that I didn’t include a perspective in one of the “left” or “right” sections. The other kind of complaint I get is that I am giving one side too much credence when I do “My take.” In almost all cases, so far, the replies have been cordial even if they are contentious and angry. I think what’s great about this newsletter is that I give a lot of space for people to write in and share their thoughts (all you have to do is reply to this email!), and so people don’t feel the need to attack me — they’re more interested in debating, which is really healthy for me, them, and (I think) the country as a whole.
Occasionally, people also unsubscribe from the newsletter (do NOT break my heart like that). When that happens, an automatic response goes out and asks for feedback, and a few people have responded. The typical answers are that people are too stressed by the news or the person that subscribed was a reporter and they had too many newsletters in their inbox. Sometimes, though, people have told me they unsubscribed because they found a view of mine particularly distasteful. I had one person unsubscribe because I criticized Obama and another unsubscribe because I took a pretty moderate “pro-choice” abortion stance in a “My take” section. Writing about politics comes with an understanding that a lot of these issues are deeply personal to people, and so you have to accept that you’re going to touch livewires, upset some folks or set off debates if you try to present multiple sides of an issue and express your own views honestly. I’m aware of that, embrace it, and just try to do my best to be open-minded. The truth is, in the 10 years I’ve been publishing my writing, there have been several occasions where readers writing into me have changed my mind on an issue. That goes all the way back to my days of having a sports and politics column at the University of Pittsburgh. As a result, I always read the mail I get and try to take it in with fresh eyes, even when it’s really hard.
A story that matters.
The Environmental Protection Agency has prepared a draft proposal, courtesy of the Trump administration, that would bar the agency from considering the conclusions of academic studies that rely on confidential medical records. Their rationale is that these studies can’t be independently verified without access to those medical records. In practice, though, this measure will be used to help retroactively block environmental regulations that were enacted based on private medical records. Many of those regulations involve air pollution and evidence that increased pollution kills thousands of Americans. “The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that more than 100,000 Americans die from illnesses caused by exposure to air pollution each year,” New York Magazine reported. Now, this new rule is being used to roll back regulations that prevent air pollution. You can read more about it from NY Mag here or The New York Times here.
- 14. The number of points Pete Buttigieg has risen in Iowa polls since August, officially putting him atop the Democratic field, according to Monmouth.
- 7. The number of points Joe Biden has dropped in the same poll since August.
- 4. The number of presidents who have had impeachment inquiries opened into them, including President Trump.
- 65. That’s how long, in days, South Carolina Republican Mark Sanford’s run for president lasted after he dropped out yesterday.
- 62%. The percentage of Americans who think that the government is doing too little to protect the environment, according to Gallup.
Have a nice day.
Two sisters raised thousands of dollars to buy 108 Thanksgiving meals for families in need. It was the third year in a row the two sisters pulled off a fundraising effort to buy meals for North Carolina families. The girls, aged 9 and 6, have already raised $2,896 for their 2019 Thanksgiving mission through lemonade and baked goods stands as well as a GoFundMe page. You can read more about their effort here.