The Morning Dispatch: Cameras! Just What Impeachment Needed.
Plus: The GOP “primary” shrinks by one, Erdogan comes to visit, and Florida workers might get a raise
Happy Wednesday! It’s a big day for the House’s impeachment inquiry and for the Trump administration’s Middle East foreign policy. Let’s get right to it.
Quick Hits: What You Need to Know
Lawmakers are scrambling to hash out a short-term government funding bill, without which the government will shut down in nine days.
A handful of 2020 shakeups: Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick mulls a late 2020 entry. Hillary Clinton claims “many, many, people” are asking her to run again. A new poll suddenly finds Pete Buttigieg in the lead in Iowa.
Mick Mulvaney will officially defy the House’s impeachment subpoena.
Among campus conservatives, a fight is breaking out over who carries the true banner of Trumpism: the “own the libs” types of Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point USA, or the out-and-out white nationalist “groyper army” figures like YouTuber Nick Fuentes.
Turkey is deporting captured ISIS fighters back to their countries of origin, stoking tensions with the European Union, which would rather not have them back.
Trump Has a Strategy for Impeachment. Will His Caucus Cooperate?
The next stage of the House impeachment inquiry—open hearings—begins today, with testimony from two State Department officials: William Taylor, America’s top diplomat to Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent. Some congressional Republicans are entering the proceedings determined to serve as aggressive defenders of the president, regardless of what facts emerge. Others are taking their roles more seriously, open to weighing evidence and in spite of what they see as a partisan process, open to a vote to impeach.
One thoughtful Republican framed the decision this way: “Ultimate question is proper vs. improper motive. There are legitimate reasons they could have been delaying aid: corruption, wanting others to do more. There is also an improper/illegal reason they could have been doing it: to pressure Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden.”
GOP talking points circulated on Capitol Hill embrace a partisan version of this argument: Regardless of whether Trump acted improperly, he ought not be impeached because it has not been demonstrated that he acted with a corrupt “state of mind.”
One advantage of this approach is that it centers the debate around an entirely subjective claim. Time and again, the president’s Republican supporters have been burned by making arguments that later collapsed under the weight of subsequent testimony by officials involved in Ukraine policy-making.
That messaging friction is now more pronounced than ever. By retreating to the safer ground of “no corrupt intent,” many House Republicans are tacitly admitting that the president’s previous “no quid pro quo” defense has been rendered inoperable by earlier testimony. Trump, not surprisingly, has taken the opposite tack: If the transcripts indicate he didn’t behave “perfectly” toward Ukraine, then plainly something’s fishy about … the transcripts.
“Shifty Adam Schiff will only release doctored transcripts,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday. “We haven’t even seen the documents. … Republicans should put out their own transcripts!” He followed that up Wednesday: “Just like Schiff fabricated my phone call, he will fabricate the transcripts that he is making and releasing!”
Even by Trump’s standards, this is a gargantuan whopper: Dozens of Republicans had access to the House’s secret depositions, and not one of them has accused Schiff of doctoring their transcripts. (Asked about the accusation, a House GOP aide told The Dispatch only that “our biggest concern has been the inconsistency in redactions.”)
Meanwhile, the president continues to command Republicans not to give an inch.
Trump is clambering ever further out onto a branch and haranguing a divided caucus to follow him. Should be interesting.
President Trump will need a new nickname for his Republican primary opponents, because “The Three Stooges” now overcounts them by 33 percent. Mark Sanford formally ended his quixotic campaign Tuesday, telling supporters in an email that “impeachment has made our goal of making the debt, deficit and spending issue a part of this presidential debate impossible right now.”
Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina who served two separate stints in the House of Representatives and whose infamous trip to Argentina with a mistress in 2009 nearly derailed his career, announced his long-shot bid on September 8, not on stylistic grounds, but policy ones. From the outset, his campaign was laser-focused on the national debt, an important issue that, if 2016 was any indication, many Republican primary voters couldn’t care less about.
Sanford was never going to unseat Trump in a primary, and neither will Bill Weld or Joe Walsh, the president’s two remaining competitors. Some pollster with way too much time and/or money actually surveyed the race, and the incumbent is winning by about 83 points. But that hasn’t stopped the Trumped-up institutional Republican Party from going into overdrive to prevent them from even trying.
The South Carolina Republican Party voted in September to skip its presidential primary. So, too, did Kansas, Alaska, Arizona, and Nevada. There’s going to be only one name on the ballot in Minnesota. The Republican National Committee decided back in May 2018, just over a year into Trump’s term, that party-sanctioned primary debates wouldn’t be necessary. (There have been unsanctioned debates between Weld, Sanford, and Walsh, but they have been truly disheartening affairs streamed primarily on Facebook Watch.)
None of this is surprising. State parties have no legal obligation to put primary challengers on ballots, and Trump’s support from Republican voters, though not at 95 percent like he claims (and claims, and claims, and claims, and claims, and claims, and claims), remains reasonably stout. But we’re edging closer to “the lady doth protest too much” territory. If the party feels compelled to erect such artificial barricades to fend off these guys, maybe Trump isn’t as strong they’d like everyone to believe.
Making Nice With Turkey
President Trump will host Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House Wednesday for diplomatic meetings, a working lunch, and a press conference. The meeting comes just weeks after Erdogan’s military seized a long swath of territory belonging to our Kurdish allies in northern Syria, provoking a storm of international protest and a new wave of sanctions legislation in Congress.
The White House’s message going in: Look, none of that means we can’t be friends.
Trump reportedly reached out to Turkey last week to tell Erdogan that a $100 billion trade deal, which the U.S. had pulled back from when Turkey invaded Syria, was back on the table. A senior administration official told reporters that “Turkey’s cooperation is critical [sic] protecting U.S. interests in the region and beyond.”
“This is nearly a 70-year alliance. … We are not going to throw it away lightly if there is a way forward,” the official said. “This administration believes in engagement. We are engaging.”
Since last month’s invasion, the Trump administration is trying to thread a difficult needle: communicating its displeasure with Turkey’s actions while trying to maintain the diplomatic relationship and avoid motivating Turkey to strengthening its friendship with Russia. Wednesday’s meeting, meanwhile, will have its own complications—Trump and Erdogan are sure to be asked about the attack on the Kurds, and, if past bilaterals with strongmen Trump likes are any indication, the president may get chippy with the press in defense of Erdogan—and, by extension, his war.
Florida Man Gets a Raise?
In all of the craziness of the past few weeks, you’d be forgiven if you missed the following: a petition drive in Florida garnered enough signatures to add a minimum wage constitutional amendment to the state’s 2020 ballot. The measure—spearheaded by wealthy Orlando trial attorney John Morgan, a longtime Democratic fundraiser who left the party to become an independent in 2017—would raise Florida’s current hourly minimum wage of $8.46 to $10 in 2021, subsequently increasing it $1 annually until $15 is reached in 2026. Assuming Florida’s Supreme Court approves the official ballot language, 60 percent approval from voters next November could make it law.
And with Florida (and its electoral votes) likely to play a key role in the 2020 presidential campaign, the implications of this ballot initiative aren’t just economic, they’re political. Brian Swensen, a veteran Florida Republican who served as deputy campaign manager for Marco Rubio’s 2016 Senate bid and political director for the state’s Republican Party, told The Dispatch he believed the measure to be a ploy by Democrats to boost voter turnout on their side. It’s an increasingly common tactic that has accompanied the proliferation of ballot initiatives in states across the country.
A $15 minimum wage polls well—a July 2019 survey found 67 percent of voters (including 43 percent of Republicans) favored the raise; if it’s left up to voters it very well might pass. Swensen pointed out that a previous ballot initiative looking to legalize medical marijuana was intended to serve a similar purpose. That measure, which failed in 2014 with 58 percent of the vote but passed in 2016 with 71 percent, was also backed by John Morgan, who did not respond to a request for comment. But despite receiving a majority and supermajority for what many would deem a “liberal” cause, Republicans won every statewide election in Florida those two cycles. We’ll see if 2020, in which there are no Senate or gubernatorial races on the ballot, is any different.
Florida is the latest in series of states and localities to consider raising the minimum wage. It’s an issue that Democrat elected officials favor with few exceptions and one on which they believe the new, more populist-GOP risks charges of hypocrisy by opposing.
The federal minimum wage currently sits at $7.25 per hour and hasn’t been adjusted since the third stage of the 2007 Fair Minimum Wage Act went into effect in July 2009. To account for inflation ($7.25 in 2009 is equivalent to $8.68 in 2019) and variable costs of living ($7.25 in Montgomery, Alabama, goes a lot further than it does in San Francisco), lots of states and municipalities have implemented their own standards that supersede the national one. D.C.’s is currently perched atop the bunch at $13.25 per hour (live look at us Morning Dispatchers), but several other states—Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York among them—have mapped out increases to $15 over the next few years, with some indexing the rate to the Consumer Price Index after that.
With its Florida for a Fair Wage-sponsored ballot initiative, the Sunshine State may soon join these ranks. But such a policy is not without its drawbacks.
A highly publicized study from researchers at the University of Washington released in 2017 and revised in 2018 found that Seattle’s landmark minimum wage increase—from $9.47 an hour to $11 in 2015, and up to $13 in 2016—yielded some adverse effects in the labor market. Hours worked in low-wage jobs fell by 6.9 percent in the three quarters the minimum wage was set at $13, and the average low-wage employee lost a net $74 a month due to these reduced hours. On an individual basis, of course, the results are highly variable: Workers who keep their job and maintain a steady stream of hours benefit from a higher minimum wage. But those who see their hours cut significantly, or can’t find work at all, lose out on much more than $74 per month. The trick is finding a rate that maximizes the former while minimizing the latter.
As Florida endeavors to do just that, The Dispatch reached out to one of the authors of that study, Bob Plotnick, to see if the results could be extrapolated to other locales. While Plotnick, a University of Washington professor, argued cities and small governments that “raise the minimum wage should really worry about the labor market impacts,” the same might not be true on a state or federal level. “It’s much easier for a company to move across a city line than across a state line, and it’s easier for customers to move across a city line than a state line if they think goods are cheaper elsewhere because of lower wages.”
Worth Your Time
In the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this week, Karl W. Smith unpacks an economic oddity of the first three years of the Trump administration: The biggest working-class beneficiaries of the strong economy have been service workers in cities, not the manufacturing and agriculture workers in small towns and rural areas that formed the backbone of his 2016 campaign:
It is ironic, of course, that this is all occurring under a president who ran on a not-so-subtle campaign to revive the white working class. Mr. Trump's policies, however, have worked against those goals. The effects of the administration's tax cuts—and the strong consumer spending they spurred—have been felt most in metropolitan areas with a high proportion of wealthier households. The spending has gone largely to services, which are provided by local workers.
Rural areas and the industrial heartland, by contrast, are far more dependent on exports of agricultural and manufacturing products—and as such, have been hurt by the president's trade war.
At The Atlantic, Caitlyn Flanagan has written an uncompromising and jarring but deeply humane look at the current sorry state of the abortion debate, and what is swept aside with its trite sloganeering:
“Most abortions happen in the first trimester,” a very smart and very kind friend reassured me. I didn’t need to worry about those detailed images of babies—by the time they had grown to such recognizably human proportions, most of them were well past the stage of development in which the majority of abortions take place. And I held on to that comforting piece of information, until it occurred to me to look at one of those images taken at the end of the first trimester. I often wish I hadn’t.
Presented Without Comment
Jeopardy! contestant Dhruv Gaur caught Alex Trebek by surprise with this show of support after the host announced he was resuming chemotherapy for his pancreatic cancer. Alex is far from the only one who choked up.
Toeing the Company Line
David’s Tuesday column zigzagged from the whistleblower’s irrelevant identity, to why DACA is good policy but bad law, to the dangers of “workism,” to Tigers. Lots of Tigers. Give it a read here.
Jonah had AEI’s Matt Continetti on The Remnant for a discussion on the philosophical history of conservatism (with some rank punditry to boot). Get the podcast here.
Let Us Know
What else should the RNC do to grease the skids for President Trump’s re-election bid?
Chew his food for him so he can save all his energy for Making America Great Again
Set up Home Alone-style booby traps in Bill Weld and Joe Walsh’s homes that cause them burn their hands on doorknobs and get hit in the face by swinging paint cans, leading them to drop out of the race for president
Threaten to withhold congressionally approved military aid to pressure a foreign government into publicly declaring an investigation into one of his political rivals
Petition to hold all general election debates at the Trump National Doral—so the president can host the G7 summit at the same time
Reporting by Declan Garvey, Andrew Egger, and Steve Hayes.