The Morning Dispatch: Does Elizabeth Warren Really Have a Plan for That?

Plus: An inside look at the Senate GOP’s impeachment resolution and the House SCIF show

Good morning, and happy Friday. Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan officially ended his 2020 campaign on Thursday, prompting Americans by the thousands to exclaim: Who is Tim Ryan, and why was he running for president??

Fun With Trillions

As Elizabeth Warren continues to gain steam in 2020 polling, an interesting dynamic has developed among the other challengers. 

Warren (and hard-left runner-up Bernie Sanders) are pledging piles of federal money to fund a progressive fever dream—Medicare for All, free college, student loan forgiveness, Social Security expansion, federal child care, and the Green New Deal. The total cost for Warren’s new proposals is estimated to be about $4.2 trillion per year—which would roughly double current levels of federal spending. 

This remarkable price tag, coupled with Warren’s prickly evasiveness about how she plans to finance her plans, has some of her opponents smelling opportunity. In last week’s debate, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who often talks about the dangers of unchecked deficit spending on the campaign trail, scolded Warren for “having a plan for everything, except this.” And Joe Biden occasionally sounded like he was channeling an old-school GOP fiscal hawk: 

“On the single most important thing facing the American public, I think it’s awfully important to be straightforward with them. [Medicare for All] is going to cost at least $30 trillion over 10 years. That is more on a yearly basis than the entire federal budget… If you eliminated the entire Pentagon, every single thing—planes, ships, troops, the buildings, everything, satellites—it would pay for a total of four months. Four months. Where do you get the rest? Where does it come from?”

Reality Check 

You’d be forgiven for thinking the Democratic field was roughly split on fiscal issues, with the left flank proposing lots of new deficit spending and the center-left candidates insisting on a measure of fiscal responsibility. 

But that framing is misleading. The harsh reality is that the entire field, from Biden to Bernie, have proposed budgets that far outpace the Democratic spending asks of only a decade ago. 

“I think the difference between the moderates and the far-left is the difference between irresponsible and delusional,” the Manhattan Institute’s Brian Riedl told The Dispatch

According to Riedl, Biden’s plan would add $4 trillion in new spending over the next 10 years—considerably less than Sanders’ plan or Warren’s, but far more than what Barack Obama was comfortable promising during the 2008 campaign. 

“Keep in mind, President Obama got elected promising to spend $1 trillion on a stimulus and then pay for all of his future proposals. Whether he did it or not, that was the promise,” Riedl said. “And today, the relative moderate Joe Biden is promising $4 trillion in spending, with questionable pay-fors. That tells you how far they’ve shifted to the left, that these days promising $4 trillion makes you look like Barry Goldwater.” 

Set Your Clocks, Open Your Checkbooks

But Warren is, for now, sharing front-runner status with Biden and so facing extra scrutiny. She has thus far demurred when asked how she’ll pay for her signature Medicare for All proposal: “This is something I’ve been working on for months and months, and it’s got just a little more work until it’s finished,” she told an Iowa crowd earlier this week

The trouble is that it’s unclear where Warren can find the necessary revenue sources, even on paper. She’s already committed her biggest, brashest revenue plan—a possibly unconstitutional and questionably useful wealth tax—to footing the bill for several other proposals, notably her $800 billion education plan.

“Unfortunately, during an election you have to grade candidates on a curve,” Riedl said. “‘None of the above’ is not always an option. If you’re looking for a candidate who’s going to cut the deficit, you’re probably going to come up empty in 2020 regardless of even the party you choose. … It’s just a matter of who will do the least damage.” 

SCOOP: The Long Road to the Senate GOP Resolution

Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell introduced a resolution on Thursday urging the House of Representatives to “open a formal impeachment inquiry and provide President Trump with fundamental constitutional protections.” But the motion Graham touted in front of an inquisitive Capitol Hill press corps was a far cry from a letter he initially presented in a closed-door Senate GOP lunch last week.

Graham, fresh off a visit to the White House, was given the floor at the lunch to describe his experience in the House as a Clinton impeachment manager. Graham surprised his Senate colleagues with an impassioned defense of Trump, relaying concern from the president that they weren’t doing enough to defend him, according to GOP sources familiar with the matter. Graham presented the idea of an aggressive letter to Speaker Pelosi, as first reported by The Hill, in which Republican senators would make clear that they would not vote to remove President Trump from office. The proposed letter would have included a defense of the president and a critique of the process run by House Democrats.

Numerous senators voiced concerns about Graham’s proposal. Tom Cotton argued that such a public missive would put vulnerable Republicans up for reelection in 2020 in a difficult spot: sign it, and you’re committing yourself to defend the president; refuse, and you’re making yourself a potential target of Trump’s ire. The former risks alienating conservative skeptics and independents and the latter would infuriate the Trump-friendly GOP base. Graham, whose office did not respond to a request for comment, was reportedly “blindsided” by the negative response from his Senate colleagues.

Which brings us back to Thursday. In the week since this contentious lunch, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly worked with Graham to remove some of the more incendiary aspects of his proposed letter related to the substance of the ongoing impeachment inquiry, shifting the focus of the resolution instead to safer process arguments. The result? More than 40 Republican senators have joined as co-sponsors, arguing the Democrat-led House is “abandoning more than a century’s worth of precedent” by “denying President Trump due process.”

At the aforementioned press conference Thursday, Graham said that while he has his own view on the Ukraine saga, he wasn’t there to tell reporters that “Donald Trump’s done nothing wrong.” Rather, he wanted to emphasize that “the way [House Democrats are] going about [impeachment] is really dangerous for the country, and we need to change course while we can.”

Hours later, however, amid reports that top White House officials were unhappy with Graham’s resolution, he was there to tell reporters than Donald Trump’s done nothing wrong:

The House: A Schiffshow, SCIFshow, or Both?

House Republicans on the impeachment committees have been simmering for weeks over what they characterize as a heavy-handed approach from Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democrat leading in inquiry. They complain that Democrats are holding secret hearings and then leaking those portions of the proceedings that seem most damning to the president. They object that they have meanwhile been muzzled from releasing information that they consider exculpatory. And they say that Schiff has clamped down on the privileges that ought to belong to the committees’ minority party: most notably by refusing this week to release copies of deposition transcripts to the GOP. 

“Even Republican members of the relevant committees cannot view it unless Schiff’s staff is in the room,” a source close to Rep. Jim Jordan, ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, told The Dispatch. “This isn’t ‘We have nothing, so we’ll argue process.’ This is profound frustration. If it was anything less, you wouldn’t be hearing it from the likes of Will Hurd.” 

These are valid concerns. But these legitimate process complaints pack less of a punch in the context of White House stonewalling and the House Republicans’ sweeping claims that Trump did nothing wrong. After all, Schiff already pledged to fulfill Republicans’ central request—that committee interviews be made public—in a letter to committee members last week: 

“As the investigation proceeds, and at a time that it will not jeopardize investigative equities, we will make the interview transcripts public, subject to any necessary redactions for classified or sensitive information,” Schiff wrote. “We also anticipate that at an appropriate point in the investigation, we will be taking witness testimony in public, so that the full Congress and the American people can hear their testimony firsthand.”

Republicans haven’t helped their case with their own violations congressional protocols and, arguably, federal law: On Wednesday, a whole troop of GOP congressmen staged a hostile takeover of a facility designed to house highly classified information. One member live-streamed a phone call from within that classified space; the group reportedly hoped to be arrested for the stunt. Plus, they ordered pizza.

That said, much of this debate may end up being moot in the long run. “Ultimately, Democrats will need to be prepared to provide whatever evidence is necessary to persuade a majority in the House to vote to impeach and whatever might persuade senators to support a conviction,” Princeton politics professor and constitutional theory expert Keith Whittington told The Dispatch Thursday.* “In the House, that could mean just circulating redacted transcripts of closed-committee testimony, though they might want to do more than that to help move public opinion and provide cover to Democrats from purple districts. In a Senate trial, they’d have to be prepared to provide the necessary witnesses for testimony and cross-examination.”

A final point: Even if the GOP process complaints about Democrats are valid, and some of them are, the greatest substantive damage done to Trump has come from individuals who are — or were — on his side. Fiona Hill was hired to work at the National Security Council by K.T. McFarland and Michael Flynn. Trump nominated Gordon Sondland to serve as his ambassador to the European Union at the urging of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Bill Taylor was brought out of retirement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to serve as a top diplomat in Ukraine. Trump elevated Mick Mulvaney to serve as his acting chief of staff. The president chose Rudy Giuliani to serve as his lawyer and chief conspiracy investigator. And, of course, Trump himself has repeatedly said and done things that have demanded the kind of scrutiny to which he’s now being subjected.

The Syria Seesaw

Just a few days ago, President Trump was hard at work pulling U.S. troops out of northern Syria, proclaiming our work stamping out ISIS in the region a success and insisting the sudden outbreak of war between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds was none of our business. Last night came the stunning news that the U.S. is seemingly on the verge of reversing course, with the Pentagon officials confirming they would soon be sending more troops into Syria to protect oil fields there from falling into ISIS’s hands. 

The move buttresses the case of everyone who objected to Trump’s snap decision to pull troops abruptly from Syria in the first place. It also underscores the unsteady, ad hoc way the president is currently running his foreign policy—and raises questions about whether he’s more concerned with protecting Kurdish lives or Kurdish oil reserves. 

What Else We’re Reading/Watching

  • Big news out of the Justice Department: the New York Times reports that the investigation into the origins of the Mueller probe is now a criminal inquiry. John Durham, a United States attorney in Connecticut, will lead the probe, though, according to the Times, it’s not clear what potential crime he is investigating.

  • The Washington Post published the preface of Charles Krauthammer’s posthumous The Point of It All, edited by his son Daniel, and it’s a stark reminder of just how much we miss Charles. The piece details the pressing need for civil debate that Charles championed throughout his life. “May the next generation find inspiration in his example.”

Something Fun

After nearly 13 months of stringing fans along, Kanye West is releasing his long-rumored ninth studio album, Jesus Is King (née Yandhi). The project, originally scheduled to drop in September 2018, got pushed back to November 2018, then September 2019, and finally, today. In the interim, it has reportedly morphed from Yandhi, a characteristically narcissistic rap album, into Jesus Is King, a gospel record featuring no cursing and in line with Kanye’s increasingly public dalliance with his Christian faith.

But things didn’t go off without one last one last hitch: In a pre-recorded interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Kanye told the audience his album was out “now.” It wasn’t.

Here’s hoping you’ve got something new to listen to by the time this newsletter hits your inbox.

Toeing The Company Line

  • The inimitable David French made his Dispatch debut on Thursday, and we’re going to have to up our game to keep pace. His first column touches on Bill Taylor’s deposition earlier this week, the ongoing debate between complementarians and egalitarians in the evangelical community, and whether Trump actually could shoot someone on 5th Avenue with impunity (he can’t). Give it a read here.

Let Us Know

Where should Matt Gaetz’s group of frustrated House Republicans break into next?

  • The panda enclosure at the zoo

  • Chick-fil-A on a Sunday

  • Area 51

  • Kanye’s recording studio

  • The gym

Reporting by Declan Garvey, Andrew Egger, and Steve Hayes.

*Correction, October 25, 2019: The post originally misattributed the quote by Princeton professor Keith Whittington.