The Morning Dispatch: The Republican Retreat on Impeachment

Plus: Marco Rubio’s ‘Common-Good Capitalism’ and a looming government shutdown.

Happy Wednesday! To those of you in states that held major elections yesterday, congrats on carrying out your civic duty once again. To the rest of you, congrats on living in a regular state that votes in regular years. The odd-numbered thing is weird

Quick Hits: What You Need to Know

  • Kentucky, Mississippi, and Virginia all held their regular oddball off-year elections Tuesday. 

    • The night’s big headline: Kentucky has elected a Democratic governor. State Attorney General Andy Beshear unseated unpopular GOP incumbent Matt Bevin, who limped to the finish despite holding home-field advantage in a state Trump carried by 30 points in 2016. 

    • In Mississippi’s governor’s race, Republican Tate Reeves cruised to a strong finish over moderate Democrat Jim Hood. 

    • And Democrats picked up substantial gains in Virginia, recapturing both houses of the state legislature and cleaning up in the suburbs of D.C. and Richmond. 

  • The Trump administration officially began the process of withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement on Monday.

  • Iran continues to step away from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which President Trump also withdrew the United States from last year. The country’s Fordo nuclear facility is once again becoming an active atomic site, with the country announcing intentions to inject uranium gas into more than 1,000 centrifuges.

  • A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Trump trailing leading Democrats by substantial margins among likely voters nationwide—but another poll from the New York Times and Siena College finds him still highly competitive in key battleground states.

  • And speaking of ABC News: The network is under fire after Project Veritas released hot-mic video of one of its anchors complaining that her coverage of Jeffrey Epstein was spiked and speculating that the well-connected financier didn’t really kill himself. 

The Death of a Defense

On September 25, Senator Lindsey Graham, among the most eager defenders of Donald Trump, offered confident assurances that whatever diplomatic dancing took place between the Trump administration and the newly elected government of Ukraine, there was no quid pro quo. “If you're looking for a circumstance where the president of the United States was threatening the Ukraine with cutting off aid unless they investigated his political opponent, you'd be very disappointed,” said Graham, who speaks regularly with Trump. “That does not exist.”

Three weeks later, in an interview on Axios HBO on October 20, Graham hedged a bit but offered a condition to his continued enthusiastic support. “If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing.” 

And here we are.

In updated testimony released on Tuesday, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland described a conversation he had with Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he proposed just such a quid pro quo. “I said 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.” Sondland was working as a lead diplomat on Ukraine issues after Trump had given him what Sondland described as a “special assignment” in Ukraine. Sondland, a high-dollar Trump donor and self-described “lifelong Republican,” has a strong advocate in Trump’s inner circle, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.  

Sondland submitted the new sworn statement, which contradicted with his earlier testimony, after a handful of senior U.S. government officials acknowledged the quid pro quo. Several did so under oath.

  • Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, said he’d heard about the demand from Tim Morrison, a top National Security Council official and special assistant to the president. Taylor also detailed a conversation that he’d had with Sondland: “Ambassador Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelensky was dependent on a public announcement of investigations — in fact, Ambassador Sondland said, ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance."

  • Tim Morrison testified that Taylor’s testimony was truthful and correct. “I can confirm that the substance of his statement, as it relates to conversations he and I had, is accurate.”

  • Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, working on the National Security Council, testified about a meeting in which he heard Sondland “speak about Ukraine delivering specific investigations to secure the meeting with the president.”

Beyond these officials, two other strong Trump advocates—acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Senator Ron Johnson—have also described a quid pro quo with Ukraine. (Mulvaney later attempted to recast his admission.)

So. where does all of this leave Lindsey Graham? Asked Tuesday about his views on Sondland’s testimony, he didn’t even attempt to reconcile his past proclamations. “I've written this whole process off ... I think this is a bunch of B.S.”

Digging Deeper

If Graham—an eager, willing defender of Trump who tried to enlist the entire Senate GOP into vouching for the president—isn’t even willing to attempt a defense in light of these latest revelations, is this a turning point? 

Maybe. Maybe not.

As hundreds of pages of impeachment interview transcripts from last month were released Monday and Tuesday, House Republicans readily slotted each witness into their narrative of unelected bureaucrats and congressional Democrats working together to undermine the president:

  • They have dismissed as a sideshow Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, who testified at length about Rudy Giuliani’s shadow foreign policy and corresponding smear campaign to have her removed. Jim Jordan told reporters Monday that her testimony “frankly, had not much to do with the underlying issue” of a quid pro quo, while Rep. Steve Scalise called her “an Obama holdover, somebody who didn’t necessarily support President Trump’s agenda.”

  • They have waved off the new testimony from Sondland, who corroborated the accounts of several others, as unreliable. In a Tuesday tweet, Mark Meadows dismissed Sondland’s testimony as mere speculation, pointing out that he also testified that he hadn’t known for certain why aid was held up at all.

  • And they have leaned hard into testimony from former U.S. Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, who pushed back on the notion that the Trump/Zelensky call represented an illegal quid pro quo. 

Bottom Line

Elected Republicans are badly divided. There are some willing to defend Trump on the substance. They’ll argue that quid pro quos are a routine part of modern statesmanship, that the co-mingling of personal political interests with matters of national interest is common, that the outrage expressed about Trump’s behavior is feigned or a reflection of naivete. 

But there are many others who concede privately that Trump’s behavior is disturbing. And their complaints about the process and about Democratic partisanship, some of them legitimate, are less compelling with every new revelation from the inquiry. Does it matter that the initial interviews were conducted behind closed doors if the full transcripts are released and confirm that the president and his advisers haven’t been honest about their attempted coercion in Ukraine?

A Deadline Looms ...

Congress will have its hands full with [gestures broadly at the above] all of that, but there’s also the small matter of funding the federal government later this month.

Congress passed, and Trump signed, a short-term funding bill in September to avert another government shutdown just eight months removed from the longest one in American history. That money dries up on November 21, at which point the government would shut down if a similar continuing resolution (which would maintain current spending levels), or longer-term deal on appropriations isn’t reached. But no need to worry. Yet.

A Senate GOP aide told The Dispatch that not only is there “no appetite at all for a shutdown” on the Hill, but “there’s confidence that Congress will fund the government beyond the current deadline.”

Another source close to Senate leadership said “no one is talking about a shutdown except Senate Democrats.” 

Chuck Schumer, best known for being a Senate Democrat, told reporters last week he is “increasingly worried that President Trump may want to shut down the government again because of impeachment,” adding that the president “always likes to create diversions.”

Trump, for his part, hasn’t proactively suggested shutting the government down, but he hasn’t ruled out the prospect, either. “I wouldn’t commit to anything,” he told reporters on Sunday. “Depends on what the negotiations are.”

Marco Rubio’s Vision for a New American Century

Part of what we hope to be here at The Dispatch is a forum for debate over the future of American conservatism. When Trump’s presidency comes to an end, in either one year or five, Republicans will be tasked with charting a path for their party, determining which aspects of Trumpism to retain and which to throw to the curb.

Senator Marco Rubio planted an early flag in this fight on Tuesday, delivering a speech at Catholic University lamenting the decay of America’s social fabric and care for one another. He lay the blame on the conservative and liberal orthodoxies that have guided American economic policy for the past half-century.

On the political right, where I come from, we’ve become defenders of the right of businesses to make a profit, the right of shareholders to receive a return on their investment, and the obligation that people have to work. All these things are true. But we have neglected the rights of workers to share in the benefits they create for their employer, and we’ve neglected the obligation of businesses to act also in the best interest of the workers and ultimately of the country that have made that success possible.

The political left is an enthusiastic champion of everyone’s right to free everything, and they never shy from reminding us of business’ obligations to share with their workers and the government, but they rarely focus on our obligation to work, and do not focus nearly enough on a business’ right to make a profit.

Rubio, like others seeking to capitalize on Trump’s populism, argued the free market alone will not solve America’s problems. “[E]conomic growth and record profits alone will not lead to the creation of dignified work.” Republicans, including Rubio, have long touted the benefits of such a market. But Trump’s victory in 2016—which saw him flout long-held party dogma on entitlements, health care, and trade—has thrown into question among Republican electeds just how strictly voters expect them to adhere to the principles that drove the Reagan revolution 30-plus years ago. 

What does this all this mean in concrete terms? Very little. .. so far. Rubio argued the tax code should incentivize corporations investing in new jobs and higher wages, not stock buybacks. He proposed revamping the Small Business Administration to encourage innovation in areas where “market principles and our national interest are not aligned.” He advocated for expanding the per-child tax credit and providing more options for family leave. “Because after all,” Rubio said to the room of students, “ask yourself this fundamental question: Does our country exist to serve the interests of the market? Or does the market exist to serve the interest of our nation?”

Rubio ended his speech claiming his goal was not to “define a post-Trump conservatism for the Republican Party,” but rather, “do whatever it takes to keep our country from coming apart.” Color us skeptical. We’d wager it was both. That post-Trump conservatism will need defining, and there are plenty of figures—Ben Sasse, Nikki Haley, Will Hurd, Liz Cheney, Doug Ducey, Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley, among others—waiting to do just that. Consider this Marco’s entry.

Worth Your Time

  • Award-winning film director Martin Scorsese set the internet aflame last month when he said Marvel movies weren’t cinema. Tuesday, he penned an op-ed explaining himself: “We now have two separate fields: There’s worldwide audiovisual entertainment, and there’s cinema. They still overlap from time to time, but that’s becoming increasingly rare. And I fear that the financial dominance of one is being used to marginalize and even belittle the existence of the other.”

  • Jonathan Rauch and Ray La Raja’s new piece in The Atlantic asks the question, “how much democracy is too much?” They argue Republicans and Democrats have ceded unprecedented power to primary voters, and it’s breaking American politics: “Despite their flaws, smoke-filled rooms did a good job of identifying qualified people who could unify their party and also exert broad appeal in a general election.”

Presented Without Comment

Something Fun

As if the Giants 2-7 season wasn’t cursed enough, Monday’s game against the Cowboys was delayed for several minutes by a black cat darting around the field.

The cat, to be fair, seemed to have absolutely no desire to be there, and did its very best to leave. We’ve all been there, cat.

Toeing the Company Line

  • David French’s Dispatch newsletter has a name! Be sure to subscribe here to get The French Press delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday. His most recent iteration dives into Elizabeth Warren’s “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Medicare financing plan,” highlights the importance of marriage to a healthy workforce, and rebuts a popular defense of Trump on the Ukraine front. We may have to issue a correction, though, because David erroneously referred to LeBron James as the GOAT, when Michael Jordan clearly holds that title.

  • National Review editor Rich Lowry joined Jonah on the most recent Remnant podcast to discuss his new book, The Case for Nationalism. Well, it was more of a debate than a discussion—but an amicable one! Give it a listen here.

Let Us Know

What else should Marco Rubio fight for in the economy of the New American Century?

  • No more of those corporate brand Twitter accounts clapping back at each other

  • Per-dog tax credits

  • A subscription product that bundles together all these new streaming servic—oh wait that’s just cable

  • Massive tax incentives for starting right-of-center digital media companies

  • Shortening the lines for the sandwich at Popeyes—one of your Morning Dispatchers had to wait 28 minutes for spicy chicken Tuesday

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