The Morning Dispatch: The Impeachment Will Be Televised

Plus: Bloomberg’s trial balloon pops, and a Veterans Day look at military service in Congress.

Happy Monday! If you’re off work today but aren’t sure why, be sure to thank the military members in your life. Today is Veterans Day—the 101st such commemoration since November 11 was set aside by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919 as a day “filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory.” 

Originally designated Armistice Day to memorialize the conclusion to the fighting of World War I, Congress rebranded and broadened the scope of the holiday in 1954 to account for non-WWI conflicts that had since taken place.

Quick Hits: What You Need To Know

  • Public impeachment hearings begin this week. If you thought impeachment news was crazy before, wait until they wheel in the TV cameras.

  • As the dust settles in the wake of Turkey’s bloody invasion of northern Syria, President Trump will hold a joint press conference Wednesday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

  • Bolivian President Evo Morales stepped down Sunday after mass protests over his allegedly fraudulent electioneering.

  • Violence escalated in Hong Kong after a police officer was caught on camera shooting a protester.

  • Nikki Haley came out strongly against impeachment and dished on former top White House officials who she said encouraged her to “resist Trump.” 

  • According to a new poll, 65 percent of Republicans believe that Trump’s summer dealings with Ukraine constituted “normal presidential behavior.”

  • With the Iowa caucuses fast approaching and polls showing no slam-dunk frontrunner, socialist superstar Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spent the weekend barnstorming the state on behalf of Bernie Sanders.

  • Disney’s streaming competitor to Netflix and Amazon Prime, Disney+, will be released to the public on Tuesday.

  • For the first time in 42 days, the Chicago Bears won a game.

Trump’s About to Get All the Transparency He Could Ever Want

Phase two of the House’s impeachment inquiry is about to begin. After six weeks of gathering secret testimony involving the president’s pressure campaign against Ukraine, House Democrats are preparing to throw the doors open: Public hearings are slated to begin Wednesday. Adam Schiff said at the outset of the inquiry that the secret phase was intended to help Congress perform its initial fact-finding investigation. Now comes the part where they try to sell the results of that investigation to the American people.

The Democrats’ immediate goal is straightforward: Try to keep things uncomplicated. The story they hope to tell convincingly has a lot of moving parts, but boils down to something very simple: The president, obsessed with conspiracy theories about his political enemies past and future, tried to extort a foreign government, Ukraine, to announce it was investigating those theories. With his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani as his pointman, he froze military aid that Congress had appropriated to help Ukraine beat back Russian aggression, letting the Ukrainians know both implicitly and explicitly that they were unlikely to receive that aid—and other prizes, like a public White House meeting—without the desired announcement.

They’ll hit other notes, too: Giuliani’s associates’ alleged criminal dealings in Ukraine, the smear campaign to oust the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, administration officials’ harried attempts to figure out exactly what Trump was driving at in Ukraine and how to prevent it from destroying relations between the two nations, and the Trump administration’s blanket refusal to permit current officials to testify. But the aid-for-investigations extortion is at the heart of it.

Once More, for the Cameras

As open hearings begin, an odd dynamic will be on display: The officials who will be testifying at the outset, including charge d’affaires Bill Taylor and former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, have already been interviewed behind closed doors. In a sense, Democrats will be retracing their steps—or perhaps presenting a revised version of the rough draft that was the closed hearings.

Republicans, meanwhile, will be frequently forced into new territory, for a simple reason: Many of the arguments they made repeatedly during closed-door sessions simply no longer stand up.

There were the procedural arguments, of course: House Republicans vociferously protested that Democrats were doing secret hearings at all, insisting the proceedings amounted to a “Soviet-style” kangaroo court where Democrats conspired against the president in secret. Republicans spent a lot of time on this argument, but they can’t go back to it now: They can engage on substance, or not at all.

Of course, many of the substance arguments they trotted out during the opening stage aren’t looking so hot now, either. In almost every case, Democrats are entering the public hearings stage already equipped with previous testimony knocking those arguments over.

  • “President Trump wasn’t asking for investigations for political reasons; he was simply trying to combat corruption in Ukraine.”

For Republicans interested in defending Trump on the merits, this argument is the gold standard: It renders the question of whether a quid pro quo took place unimportant by denying that Trump did anything untoward at all. The president “wanted to clean up corruption in Ukraine, and ensure taxpayer funded aid wasn’t going to corrupt causes,” Rep. Mark Meadows tweeted last week. “Only D.C. Democrats could spin protecting taxpayer money into an impeachable offense.”

But a few pieces of sworn testimony already on record challenge this claim. Asked whether Giuliani was pushing for an investigation into the energy company Burisma for reasons unrelated to the Bidens, former NSC official Kurt Volker replied in the negative: “I believe that Giuliani was interested in Biden, Vice President Biden’s son Biden, and I had pushed back on that.”

A current State Department official, George Kent, testified that, according to EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, Trump used “Biden and Clinton” as shorthand for the investigations he wanted: “POTUS wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to microphone and say investigations, Biden, Clinton.”

And released text messages between Sondland, Volker, and a top Ukrainian official, Andrey Yermak, demonstrate that the White House wasn’t just asking for an investigation into potential wrongdoing: They were asking Ukraine to assert in a public statement that wrongdoing had occurred and must be prevented from recurring. “Special attention should be paid to the problem of interference in the political processes of the United States, especially with the alleged involvement of some Ukrainian politicians,” Volker told Yermak the statement should say. “We intend to initiate and complete a transparent and unbiased investigation of all available facts and episodes, including those involving Burisma and the 2016 U.S. elections, which in turn will prevent the recurrence of this problem in the future.”

  • “Ukraine never knew the aid had been held up; no harm, no foul.”

Here’s another one that attempts to neutralize the “quid pro quo” accusation: How could Trump have been extorting Ukraine if they didn’t even know he was extorting them? “Ukraine didn’t know there was a hold on aid until just before it was lifted,” Rep. Lee Zeldin asserted Sunday.

But this, too, is contradicted by sworn testimony: Sondland reversed himself last week and asserted that he told a Ukrainian official that “resumption of the U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”

  • “All this is is just the establishment conspiring with Democrats to bring the president down.”

With the previous process arguments taking on water, we’ve started to see arguments of this tone more and more frequently in pro-Trump media about various officials who have offered testimony: a spurious claim pushed by Fox News that Yovanovitch had perjured herself; a theory, entertained by personalities at CNN and Fox and some House Republicans, that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman had suspicious loyalties to Ukraine; and so on.

This argument is not the one most Republicans are eager to be making. It is faintly silly on its face—everyone who provides testimony that’s bad for Trump immediately becomes a villain—and it lacks the strategic impact of previous arguments: Even if they all were anti-Trump partisans, they’ve provided compelling evidence of Trump’s bad behavior under penalty of perjury.

Still, this argument has one great merit for Republicans: Unlike the others, it’s unfalsifiable. There’s no possible piece of testimony that could come out to disprove the notion that all this is just one big anti-Trump conspiracy, because every problematic piece of testimony can be immediately waved off as part of that conspiracy. Don’t be surprised, then, if we see this one deployed more and more frequently as open hearings get underway.

Trial Balloon-berg?

Last week, we covered former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s increasingly aggressive flirtations with a 2020 presidential bid, culminating with an official filing in Alabama on Friday. Over the weekend, the billionaire received some bad news and some slightly less bad news, both by way of the latest 2020 Morning Consult poll, conducted after the news of Bloomberg’s intentions.

The survey shows Bloomberg is a known commodity—already capturing 4 percent of likely Democratic primary voters. That’s not awful for a late-entry rich guy, placing him sixth in the race before even launching; Tom Steyer would be so lucky! But then the doom and gloom: there are a lot of Democrats for whom Bloomberg’s name is already mud. The New York tycoon holds the highest unfavorables in the field, despite being well-liked by the Democratic party’s older and more conservative fringes. Plus, despite all of Bloomberg’s alleged concerns over Biden, Warren, and Bernie’s electability, he himself leads Trump by a comparable margin, with a much larger contingency of undecided voters.

Axios reported Sunday that last week’s announcement served partly as a trial balloon for Bloomberg’s camp—to get a gauge on how voters and the media would react. After a couple of days, it seems safe to say the media is a lot more excited about a potential Mayor Mike candidacy than the American people more broadly.

Progressive and black voters are crucial to winning a Democratic primary in 2020. If you were building a game-changing Democratic candidate in a lab, you wouldn’t create a rich old white guy who was formerly a Republican and oversaw the implementation of stop-and-frisk policing in New York City.

Whether Bloomberg officially jumps in is yet to be seen (his team has already indicated that if he does join the race, he’d all but skip the first four states), but expect Warren and Bernie to continue building him up as a bogeyman while he decides. They’d love another foil on a debate stage—particularly one that might fracture the more moderate vote.

Service To Country—In More Ways Than One

A September study from Pew Research on trust and American institutions frequently found members of Congress and the military to be on opposite ends of the confidence spectrum: 77 percent of survey respondents believed military leaders handle resources responsibly all, most, or some of the time; only 47 percent thought the same about Congress. Meanwhile, 56 percent of those polled said military leaders do a good job preparing personnel to protect the country all or most of the time; 4 percent suggested members of Congress always or mostly do a good job promoting laws that serve the public.

So Americans have faith in the military, but think Congress is a sh*tsh*w. We here at The Morning Dispatch are up on Capitol Hill a decent amount—can confirm the latter is true. But what about those in the center of that Venn diagram, members of both institutions?

This combination used to dominate the halls of Congress. From 1965 to 1975, per a Pew Research Center analysis, at least 70 percent of both the Senate and the House entered elected office with prior military experience. Forty-two percent of respondents in 1973 told Gallup they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress. Today, less than 20 percent of members of Congress are veterans—and Americans’ confidence in the legislative branch has plummeted to 11 percent.

Former senators Richard Lugar and Tom Daschle argued in 2017 “it's no coincidence that the current dysfunction in Congress comes as the number of lawmakers with military experience is at a historic low.” The pair, both veterans themselves, wrote that “military service tends to broaden an individual's world view,” and that “veterans are more likely to have witnessed the importance of alliances, the value of U.S. leadership and the key role that foreign relations play in our economy.” 

A fresh wave of veterans who fought in the war on terror are coming of age and looking to restore these values. While the total number of members with military experience decreased from 102 to 96 in the 116th Congress, 19 of those first elected in 2018 have served in the armed forces, the largest veteran freshman class in a decade. And the number of female veterans on the Hill is at a record high.

From Mikie Sherrill, a New Jersey Democrat and former Navy helicopter pilot, to Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican and former Navy SEAL who lost his right eye in an IED explosion; from Mike Waltz, a Florida Republican and Green Beret, to Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat and former marine, these individuals dedicated their lives to serving our nation on the frontlines, and now they—alongside dozens of others—are doing so again in Congress.

Worth Your Time

  • The Berlin Wall fell 30 years ago Saturday. Check out this photo series The Atlantic put together illustrating life before the fall, and read how the Washington Post covered the historic day in real time.

  • Young Texas Republicans are having an identity crisis, Buzzfeed’s Nidhi Prakash reports. “I think we’re running out of time. We’re like a bunch of political dinosaurs and my party is practicing extinction politics”

  • Two of the best players in college sports, Ohio State’s Chase Young and Memphis’ James Wiseman, are facing punishment from the NCAA for “low-scale financial dealings from years past.” Read The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman on why the collegiate sports body should not exist.

Presented Without Comment

Something Fun

Pixar released a teaser for its newest film, Soul, and … is it June yet?

Toeing The Company Line

  • Steve joined Face The Nation on Sunday to discuss how last week’s released deposition transcripts have reshaped the Republican line on impeachment and who stands to benefit the most from a potential Michael Bloomberg candidacy. Check it out here.

  • Jonah delved into the great “democracy vs. republic” debate in Friday’s G-File, working through the difference between being “democratically” and “lawfully” elected. Friday’s edition also garnered quite possibly the best comment of The Dispatch era: “Jonah Goldberg saying, ‘Please cut me some slack if this gets weird.’ is like Michael Phelps saying ‘Please cut me some slack if I get wet.’” Thank you to reader Butch Earl for the truism.

Let Us Know

Where will the Ukraine scandal goalposts be at this time next week?

  • “Sure Rudy said that, but he’s always been a deep state Never Trumper”

  • “You have to respect the president demonstrating to aspiring law students everywhere what a quid pro quo is and how to carry one out on an international stage”

  • “It’s not like Trump was asking Ukraine to investigate a Republican”

  • “At least Trump and Sondland didn’t wad up the promised military aid in cash and play monkey-in-the-middle, throwing it back and forth over Zelensky’s head until he promised to investigate Biden”

  • “Show me where in the Constitution it says a president needs to act in the best interests of the United States”

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