The Morning Dispatch: Does the GOP Have a Retirement Problem?
Plus: Tom Steyer’s Monopoly money and the downsides of secret impeachment hearings.
|The Dispatch Staff||29||3|
Good Friday morning! Congrats all around on making it through this wild week. In case you’re still working off a World Series hangover after the Nats’ magical (and statistically improbable!) finish or otherwise lost after glancing away from the news for five seconds, here are a few headlines to bring you up to speed:
Quick Hits: What You Need To Know
The House of Representatives on Thursday voted to formally approve its ongoing impeachment inquiry—a step opposed by every House Republican and a smattering of swing-district Democrats.
President Trump is floating the idea of staging a reading of the Ukraine call transcript on live TV.
Democratic senators running for president are getting nervous that impeachment might upend their campaign schedules during caucus season, forcing them to kick off the new year poring over impeachment proceedings on Capitol Hill instead of shaking hands in Iowa.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that the platform will be banning all political and issue-based ads, a move that directly contrasts with Facebook’s policies.
After 11 days, the Chicago Teachers Union strike has ended, with students returning to class on Friday.
Tim Morrison: Trump’s New Lease on Life?
The news out of the House’s impeachment depositions has been mostly grim for President Trump so far, with official after official testifying that the Trump administration held up military aid to Ukraine to pressure that country’s government into opening investigations into the president’s political opponents. But on Thursday, a former top National Security Council official provided some rare good news for the White House, taking issue with some points of other officials’ prior testimony and asserting that he did not believe Trump’s now-infamous call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky involved anything illegal.
“I had three concerns about a potential leak of the MemCon,” Tim Morrison testified. “First, how it would play out in Washington's polarized environment; second, how a leak would affect the bipartisan support our Ukrainian partners currently experience in Congress; and third, how it would affect the Ukrainian perceptions of the U.S.-Ukraine relationship. I want to be clear, I was not concerned that anything illegal was discussed.”
It’s not all good news for the White House: Morrison also backed up Bill Taylor’s previous testimony about the irregular Ukraine policy Trump was running through his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and confirmed that the White House was planning to hold up military aid to pressure Ukraine into investigating “corruption”—investigations that, we know from previous testimony, involved the DNC and the Bidens.
Still, as Hill Republicans gear up for a “bad but not impeachable” defense of the president, Morrison’s testimony was helpful.
On Republican Retirements and a New Era of Performative Politics
On Monday, Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon became the 15th Republican member of the House to announce his or her retirement from public office in advance of the 2020 election. Walden, the ranking member of the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee that legislates on issues ranging from health care to environmental protection to electronic communications, told Politico in a statement that “the time has come to pursue new challenges and opportunities,” despite being “confident” he could win another term and “optimistic” Republicans could recapture the majority they lost last year.
The move shocked much of Washington, but not Brendan Buck, former counselor to House Speaker Paul Ryan. “Thoughtful legislating is not rewarded anymore,” Buck told The Dispatch on Thursday. “We are now in an era of entertainment politics, and if you want to work your way up through the system, the answer no longer is learning policy, putting your time in at the committee level, becoming a legislator. The way to get ahead now is to go on television and use hyperbole and say crazy things. And so, it is no surprise that it is some of our more thoughtful legislators who are deciding to leave.”
Walden, who was first elected to Congress in 1998 and chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) that maintained the Republican majority in the 2014 and 2016 cycles, garnered significant respect from his colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Illinois Republican Adam Kinzinger called Walden’s retirement “a major loss for us all,” while his Democratic counterpart Frank Pallone applauded Walden’s commitment to addressing the opioid epidemic and wished him “nothing but the best in the future.”
The Trumpification of the GOP
Buck, who spent more than a decade on the Hill in various capacities, lamented what he sees as a changing incentive structure for elected officials. “What’s rewarded is saying things inflammatory because a) that gets you on television, b) that allows you to fundraise,” he said. “Pretty soon all the members of the House are either going to be candidates inspired by Trump or members who have adopted his style of politics. And there will not be a lot of diversity of thought, or diversity of style within the House Republican Conference.”
The conference has undoubtedly come to more closely resemble the leader of the party over the last several years, and that’s natural. But many members once viewed as leaders or rising stars—Paul Ryan, Jeb Hensarling, Mia Love, Carlos Curbelo, Will Hurd—have left or are leaving the Hill, either of their own volition or because they got swept up in last year’s blue wave. Of the 13 House Republicans who earlier this year voted against Trump’s effort to circumvent Congress and use emergency funds to build his border wall, for example, one—Justin Amash—has since left the party, and four—Greg Walden, Will Hurd, Jim Sensenbrenner, and Francis Rooney—are retiring. There are still “sensible, thoughtful legislators,” Buck says, “But they are certainly a shrinking minority in the House.”
Looking on the Bright Side
These institutional losses for the GOP don’t necessarily portend electoral losses, and some change can be healthy. The Republican Conference, unlike its Democratic counterpart, abides by self-imposed term limits that prevent any Republican from serving as chairman or ranking member for more than six years, and has historically experienced higher turnover as a result. President Trump has criticized the practice—which dates back to Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Contract with America—for its tendency to encourage early retirement among members, but proponents believe that’s a feature of the system, not a bug.
“We do not want to be the House Democratic Caucus, with a triumvirate of septuagenarians in charge,” Michael Steel, longtime press secretary to former Speaker John Boehner told The Dispatch earlier this week. “Our rules with the committee term limits are explicitly designed to encourage members to do what the Founders envisioned: To have a career, be successful, come to Washington for a period of time, spend time contributing to your country, and then go home.”
While Steel said he, too, was disappointed to see Walden go, he suggested this higher rate of churn can play to Republicans’ advantage in governing: Democrats “prize institutional knowledge, experience, seniority, and this sort of sclerotic trudge up the ranks of congressional leadership and seniority. We want younger, more dynamic members representing diverse backgrounds, new ideas, new energy.”
This turnover can arguably be advantageous electorally as well. Sometimes it’s “easier to have a blank slate of a candidate versus a candidate with a voting record that could be distorted or taken out of context,” NRCC Communications Director Chris Pack told The Dispatch. Pack says he isn’t too worried about the spate of retirements, either. “The Will Hurd one hurts,” he said, referencing the congressman from Texas who won his race in 2018 by just more than 1,000 votes. But otherwise, “Democrats aren’t going to play in these seats, because they’re solidly Republican.”
That may be so—he tells The Dispatch these seats have an average vote margin of about 14 percent in favor of Republicans. But what the GOP may not be losing in House seats, it may well be losing in the quality of the people that fill them. And those are losses that could cost the party for years to come.
2020 Watch: Tom Steyer, Odd Man … In?
With the fifth Democratic debate just weeks away, those 2020 Democratic hopefuls vying to remain on the fringe of relevance are racing to qualify. Of the 12 who made the stage in October, three—Tulsi Gabbard, Beto O’Rourke, and Julian Castro—have yet to meet the debate’s polling threshold.
One candidate who has made the cut may surprise you: Tom Steyer, the hedge fund billionaire who built a #Resistance political brand in 2017 by starting a campaign to get President Trump impeached and who hopped into the 2020 race this past July. Steyer failed to make enough of a splash to qualify for any of the debates before October’s, but has now already punched his ticket for November’s. Even more remarkable, while he has yet to qualify for December’s debate, he’s already closer to doing so than a whole assortment of the cohort’s B-tier pols, including Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, and Andrew Yang.
Why the modest breakthrough? His campaign would tell you it’s because his outsider message is just getting through to people: “Tom has picked up momentum because his message is resonating,” Steyer spokesman Alberto Lammers told The Dispatch. As president, he would “end the corporate stranglehold on our government and return power to the American people.”
And hey—maybe there’s something to that. But there’s also this: Steyer is pouring an extraordinary amount of his own money into the race, flooding the airwaves of crucial early primary states like South Carolina with ads touting his feel-good biography and slightly lemony smile. The Steyer campaign spent an eye-popping $47 million during this year’s third quarter, more than double the $21 million shelled out by the race’s next-biggest spender, Bernie Sanders.
For some on the left, this makes Steyer a bit of a thorny subject. Longtime Democratic strategist Max Burns told The Dispatch that the billionaire is “showing how easily money can corrupt the process even when the party is purportedly guarding against it.”
“This to me is another example of Howard Schultz syndrome,” Burns said. “You get very successful in one thing, people stop telling you ‘no,’ people start giving you awards just because you’re a valuable draw for their events, and suddenly you start thinking, ‘How hard can this be?’
“He’s seeking the nomination of a party that at least superficially believes money should not buy you the presidency. And yet that is his sole strategy.”
Steyer’s case is interesting because it simultaneously shows the power and the limitations of big-dollar campaigning. In a crowded field where plenty of established and successful politicians are struggling just to get a seat at the table, Steyer has been able to separate from the pack simply by hammering his name into voters’ heads with a wad of cash.
But while infinite funds can certainly help a candidate get voters’ attention, odds are he’ll need to do more more to keep it. After powering his way onto the debate stage in October, Steyer turned in a snoozer of a performance in which his most notable moment was using the word “frenemies” to describe working with hostile nations to combat climate change. If he can’t use the November and December debates to better effect, all that money will have gone to waste. And the grumbling will grow louder among Democrats who believe that his money would have been better spent funding down-ballot candidates than a presidential ego trip.
Worth Your Time
Thirty years ago, medical researchers discovered the genetic cause of cystic fibrosis, an incurable condition that creates terrible lifelong problems and a shorter life expectancy. Now, researchers are reportedly on the cusp of by far the biggest breakthrough yet in treating it. In this incredible Washington Post story, every paragraph will bring a bigger smile to your face:
‘On Aug. 25, 1989, an 8-year-old girl named Jenny wrote in her diary, “To Day is the most Best day ever in my Life They found a Jean for Cistik fibrosis.” Jenny McGlincy, now 38, was on vacation with her husband and daughter in Mexico when word began to circulate that the drug had been approved. She read the news on her phone and began crying.’
Bryan Curtis has an excellent piece in The Ringer mourning the decline of Deadspin, the divisive sports blog that garnered both a cultlike following and its fair share of derision. Deadspin writers have been resigning en masse after a “stick to sports” mandate was handed down from new ownership group G/O Media, limiting their ability to comment on politics, culture, and current affairs.
The American Bar Association is under fire for its ad hominem attacks on Trump judicial nominee Lawrence VanDyke. Read the American Enterprise Institute’s Adam White on how the ABA’s perceived political biases “hurt not only good judicial nominations, but also the ABA itself.”
Presented Without Comment
These two sisters (and their parents) might have won Halloween this year.
Toeing The Company Line
In his newsletter yesterday, David French newsletter deployed Battlestar Galactica and Dune references to help explain Trump’s and the Clintons’ corruption, respectively. Plus, is Christianity really on the decline? And Barack Obama is melting snowflakes?
Steve joined the Brian Kilmeade Show earlier this week to discuss everything from al-Baghdadi to impeachment. You can hear it here (and skip to the 10:35 a.m. segment for the boss).
Jonah’s got an extra spooky Halloween episode of The Remnant speculating on the deepest fears of some of the most prominent people in public life. Give it a listen here.
Let Us Know
What should Tom Steyer have spent $47 million on instead of running for president?
Buying every single ticket in the stadium to three straight 49ers home games
Procuring a second tie
Supplying 470 million meals to the hungry through Feeding America
Producing a show on Netflix and casting himself as the president
Buying a pastoral English village or two
Seriously, a second tie
Reporting by Declan Garvey, Andrew Egger, and Steve Hayes.