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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 11.6.19

11/06/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest transcript release: "The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, told House impeachment investigators last month that President Donald Trump directed officials to tie military aid to Ukraine to demands that the country open political advantageous probes, according to a transcript of his testimony made public Wednesday."

* According to one federal judge, the so-called "conscience rule" is unconstitutional: "A federal judge in New York on Wednesday struck down a new Trump administration rule that would have allowed health care clinicians to refuse to provide abortions for moral or religious reasons."

* The first open hearing is scheduled to be held on Nov. 13: "Public hearings in Congress will begin next Wednesday in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Wednesday."

* It sounds to me like Dems were worried about a bad ruling: "House Democrats on Wednesday pulled their subpoena for testimony from Charles M. Kupperman, a former top national security official of Mr. Trump, according to a court filing. It's unclear why the committee gave up on seeking Mr. Kupperman's testimony."

* The Stone trial is underway: "President Trump's longtime friend Roger Stone lied to Congress 'because the truth looked bad for Donald Trump,' a federal prosecutor said Wednesday at the opening of Stone's trial for allegedly trying to conceal his efforts before the 2016 election to gain insights about Democrats' hacked emails."

* I'm struggling to see the point of efforts like these: "The Republican National Committee paid to generate thousands of calls to the congressional offices of nearly three dozen House Democrats in recent weeks, an effort that was aimed at both shaping opinion around the impeachment inquiry and tying up the phone lines of the elected officials, according to two people briefed on the effort."

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The Republican Party's Trump-era losses start to pile up

11/06/19 12:59PM

The tail end of the Bush/Cheney era was politically brutal for the Republican Party. Democrats made dramatic gains in back-to-back "wave" elections in 2006 and 2008, and by the time Barack Obama was inaugurated, the GOP appeared beaten, directionless, and small.

It did not, however, last long. The funny thing about political capital is that its investment comes at a cost: Obama and his allies made dramatic advances on a wide range of issues, which had the predictable effect of mobilizing far-right voters. In 2010, Republicans took back the U.S. House. Four years later, they claimed the U.S. Senate, too. By the time Obama exited the White House, his party had lost hundreds of state legislature seats, a dozen gubernatorial offices, more than a dozen U.S. Senate seats, and dozens of U.S. House seats.

By the time of Donald Trump's inauguration, the political landscape looked a bit like a mirror image of the one Obama saw nearly a decade earlier, this time with Republicans in a dominant position.

Except, it's not enduring, either. The Washington Post's Aaron Blake published five fascinating data points this morning:

* The House was 241-194 Republican after the 2016 election. Today, it's effectively 235-199 Democratic.

* Republicans held a historic 33-16 advantage in governor's seats after the 2016 election. Today, it's 26-24.

* Republicans had a 32-14 advantage in state legislatures controlled after 2016. Today, it's 30-19. (Some legislatures are split, with one party controlling one chamber, and the other party in a majority in the other.)

* The GOP had total control over the governance of 24 states, vs. seven for Democrats. Today, it's a much-closer 22-14.

* Republicans had an advantage of 57 percent to 42 percent in nationwide state legislative seats after 2016. Today, that 15-point edge is trimmed to five, 52-47.

To be sure, the news for the GOP isn't all bad. The U.S. Senate, in particular, has become a bright spot for the party, thanks in part to some structural advantages that have helped Republicans enormously. Despite the GOP's many electoral setbacks, it hasn't lost any ground in the Trump-era Senate.

But taken as a whole, there's no denying the fact that the GOP's hold on power is moving in the wrong direction -- and it may get worse before it gets better.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.6.19

11/06/19 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* Donald Trump last night claimed via Twitter that Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) "picked up at least 15 points" thanks to the president's support. Trump soon after said the boost was "maybe 20." The president appears to have completely made these numbers up, which is usually what he does after an election.

* On a related note, Bevin still hasn't conceded, and Robert Stivers, the Republican president of the Kentucky Senate, told reporters "that a joint session of the Kentucky General Assembly may eventually decide the winner, citing a provision in the state constitution that hasn't been used in 120 years."

* In Monmouth University's new national poll, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren are tied at 23% each in the race for the Democratic nomination, followed closely by Bernie Sanders at 20%. Compared to Monmouth's findings from a month ago, Biden has slipped two points, Warren has dropped five points, and Sanders has gone up five points.

* On a related note, the same poll added, "Just over 4-in-10 (42%) registered voters feel that Trump should be reelected in 2020, while a majority (55%) say it is time to have someone new in the Oval Office. "

* It may not have been yesterday's most high-profile contest, but voters in Wichita, Kansas, easily elected a Democratic mayor, with Brandon Whipple (D) defeating incumbent Jeff Longwell (R) by 10 points.

* Democrats also appear to have done well in local races in Pennsylvania, including the Delaware County Council, a "Republican stronghold since the Civil War," where Dems will now hold all five seats.

* The ranked-choice voting initiative I was keeping an eye on in New York City passed.

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Prominent among the sights to see in Jackson, Miss., is the Mississippi State Capitol, photographed, June 10, 1999. Completed in 1903, the building exemplifies the beaux arts classical style of architecture.

Mississippi elects another GOP governor, but by a modest margin

11/06/19 11:20AM

Yesterday's election results were clearly not what Republican leaders were hoping for, but the day wasn't a total loss for the party: as the Clarion Ledger reported, the GOP candidate prevailed in Mississippi's gubernatorial election.

Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves won the race for Mississippi governor Tuesday night, defeating Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood.

Republicans were on track Tuesday to control all statewide elected offices in Mississippi and are expected to maintain super-majority control of the Legislature. It will be the first time since Reconstruction that Republicans control all statewide elected offices in Mississippi.

With just about all of the votes counted, it looks like Reeves won 52.2% to 46.5%. That's hardly a razor-thin margin, though given the fact that Donald Trump -- who campaigned in Mississippi late last week -- won the state by 17 points, yesterday's outcome was fairly close.

Indeed, in the last few election cycles, the Republican candidate in Mississippi's gubernatorial race has dominated, winning by 18 points (in 2007), 22 points (in 2011), and 34 points (in 2015). This year's contest was the closest Mississippi has seen in two decades.

Even if state Attorney General Jim Hood (D) had won the most votes, he almost certainly would've lost anyway: Mississippi operates under an unusual system, created in the Jim Crow era to undermine the electoral strength of the state's African-American community, in which Hood also would've had to have won a majority of the state's 122 legislative districts. If not, the election would go to state lawmakers, where Republicans have an overpowering majority.

For the most part, the state can expect the political status quo to continue for a while -- Reeves is replacing a two-term Republican governor -- though that's not good news for many of the state's low-income families lacking health insurance. Vox noted overnight that Mississippi is one of the 14 states that has refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and yesterday's outcome suggests that will not change anytime soon:

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Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., at podium, speaks during a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center outside the Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense, deposition related to the House's impeachment inquiry on Wednesday, October 23, 2019.

Many in GOP have 'simply not shown up' for impeachment depositions

11/06/19 10:41AM

As transcripts of the impeachment proceedings come to public light, we're starting to see the kinds of questions Republicans have asked of witnesses. For GOP members, this isn't good news: the transcripts show House Republican lawmakers peddling conspiracy theories and pursuing pointless lines of inquiry, instead of trying to learn the facts.

But the transcripts also show something just as notable: while some Republicans used their time during the proceedings poorly, other GOP lawmakers chose not to attend the proceedings at all.

This first came up two weeks ago, when Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told Rachel on the show that "very few" House Republicans who've participated in the process have taken full advantage of the opportunity, apparently because "they don't want to do the actual work."

Maloney's observation has now been bolstered by the transcripts themselves, with Roll Call reporting overnight that "most" of the Republicans on the relevant committees "aren't showing up."

Republicans have for weeks blasted the closed-door impeachment process, but transcripts released this week of private depositions show most GOP lawmakers on the three panels at the center of the probe have simply not shown up.

The low attendance for most committee Republicans paints a very different picture of a party that recently stormed the secure room where the depositions have been conducted, demanding to participate in the process.

It would be an exaggeration to say none of the GOP members has shown up -- some needed to be there to tout conspiracy theories and pursue pointless lines of inquiry -- but the members present was heavily tilted in one direction.

At the deposition for Ambassador Gordon Sondland, for example, Roll Call noted that "Democrats outnumbered Republicans more than 2-to-1."

That's not because GOP members were excluded; it's because Republicans chose not to show up for the depositions they were invited to participate in.

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Citing Sondland, Republicans went out on a limb (that's broken off)

11/06/19 10:06AM

When U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified to the congressional impeachment inquiry last month, he denied ever having been part of a quid-pro-quo scheme. "Let me state clearly: Inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming U.S. election would be wrong," Sondland said. "Withholding foreign aid in order to pressure a foreign government to take such steps would be wrong. I did not and would not ever participate in such undertakings."

Almost immediately, Donald Trump's Republican allies were quick to cite Sondland's testimony as powerful evidence in the White House's favor. Take Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), for example, who appeared on Fox News three weeks ago.

The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee told Fox News Thursday the common theme from U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland's closed-door interview was the absence of evidence of a quid pro quo. [...]

"In his opening statement, he does refer to [former New York Mayor Rudy] Giuliani operating sort of sometimes in conjunction with the State Department, sometimes not," [McCaul] said. "I think what is a common theme with the testimony that's been made public is there's no quid pro quo here -- and I think that's very clear from the president's phone conversation."

The Texan wasn't alone.

[Republicans argued] that Sondland's testimony -- despite his expressed concerns with Giuliani's role in Ukraine -- buttressed the president's defense that there was nothing nefarious in the administration's approach to foreign policy there.

"He says exactly what President Zelensky said, exactly what President Trump said: No quid pro quo whatsoever," Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), the senior Republican on the Oversight Committee, said afterwards, referring to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Even the president himself, citing something he claimed to see on Fox News, published a tweet celebrating Sondland for having "said there was no quid pro quo."

All of which set the stage for this week -- when Sondland amended his testimony and told lawmakers that he did, in fact, participate in a quid pro quo.

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Republican Presidential hopeful and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks at an event at the National Press Club on Sept. 8, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

Lindsey Graham goes from moving the goalposts to eliminating them

11/06/19 09:20AM

In late September, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters, "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. That does not exist."

We now know, of course, that the senator was wrong. The evidence that Donald Trump did exactly that is plain, obvious, and uncontested.

A month later, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman set an important standard in the president's Ukraine scandal: "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."

Again, it's now overwhelmingly clear that Trump was actually engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the July 25 phone call between the American president and Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelenskiy.

So, the South Carolinian must be "very disturbed," right? Wrong.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters Tuesday that he would not be reading two newly released deposition transcripts, calling the Democratic-led impeachment probe a "bunch of BS."

Graham's comments came hours after House investigators released transcripts of the depositions of Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt Volker, former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine.

Let's not forget that it was less than a month ago when Graham also published a tweet insisting that if House Democrats refused to release the "full transcript" of Kurt Volker's testimony it would be "an abuse of power."

House Democrats released that transcript. Soon after, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee suggested he didn't want to read the materials, ignoring his demands from early October.

Graham's inconsistencies and hypocrisy are likely to do lasting harm to his reputation, but I think there are a couple of related angles that make this story even more damaging.

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Voters line up in voting booths to cast their ballots at Robious Elementary School in Chesterfield, Va. on Nov. 8, 2016. (Photo by Shelby Lum/Richmond Times-Dispatch/AP)

As Dems take the reins in Virginia, the practical effects matter

11/06/19 08:40AM

Bill Clinton was a very successful presidential candidate in the 1990s, winning more than 370 electoral votes in each of his national campaigns, but there were some red states where the Democrat struggled to compete. He came up short in the commonwealth of Virginia, for example, twice.

Al Gore also lost Virginia. So did John Kerry.

Slowly but surely, however, the Old Dominion State started changing. Barack Obama carried Virginia twice, and Hillary Clinton won it in 2016. In recent cycles, Virginians have elected Democrats for governor, lieutenant governor, U.S. senators, state attorney general, and most of the commonwealth's congressional delegation. Last night, for the first time in a generation, the party took the reins in the state legislature, too.

Virginia Democrats continued their winning streak under President Trump on Tuesday and took full control of the statehouse for the first time in more than two decades.

Suburban voters turned out in big numbers to back Democratic candidates, continuing a trend of once GOP-friendly suburbs turning blue. This is the third election in a row in which Democrats made significant gains since Trump was elected.

"I'm here to officially declare today, November 5, 2019, that Virginia is officially blue," Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam told a crowd of supporters in Richmond.

Of course, partisan bragging rights can generate cheers on Election Day, but what's especially significant about Democrats controlling the levers of power in Virginia is what they intend to do with control.

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Matt Bevin talks with voters on May 17, 2014 in Fountain Run, Ky. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Kentucky delivers a wake-up call to Trump's Republican Party

11/06/19 08:00AM

On Monday night, Donald Trump traveled to Kentucky for a campaign rally intended to benefit one man: Gov. Matt Bevin (R). The president told the unpopular governor, on the eve of his re-election bid, "[I]f you lose, they're going to say, 'Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world. This was the greatest.' You can't let that happen to me."

Yeah, about that....

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear pulled off an upset Tuesday night in an apparent victory over Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, dealing a blow to President Donald Trump, NBC News projects. [...]

In Kentucky, Trump couldn't save the unpopular Bevin after campaigning with him the night before the election in Lexington, where the president told supporters a loss by the GOP governor would be portrayed as Trump's having suffered "the greatest defeat in the history of the world."

For his part, the GOP governor hasn't yet conceded the race, though there does not appear to be a realistic scenario in which he can overcome his current deficit against Gov.-elect Beshear (D).

The results are humiliating for Trump in ways that are hard to ignore. The president was determined to boost Bevin and Trump believed he knew exactly what to do to help the governor win a second term: the key was to nationalize the state race.

Indeed, Bevin effectively ran as a Trump surrogate in recent months, emphasizing the president constantly in his campaign ads and speeches, and even making the case that the impeachment inquiry against Trump was a key issue in Kentucky's gubernatorial contest.

Bevin was among the nation's least popular governors -- he barely won in a GOP primary this year -- but the Republican knew that the president won Kentucky by 30 points, so the more he told voters that a vote for Bevin was a vote for Trump, the better he saw his odds.

In some circles, it looked like a sensible strategy: the Washington Post ran an analysis five days before the election that said a "backlash" to the congressional impeachment inquiry "might get the Republican governor of Kentucky re-elected."

Or perhaps not.

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Diplomats' texts lay out Trump Ukraine scheme in stark detail

Diplomats' texts lay out Trump Ukraine scheme in stark detail

11/06/19 12:25AM

Rachel Maddow reports on newly published transcripts of text messages between Kurt Volker, Gordon Sondland and others, in which Donald Trump's demand for investigations into Joe Biden's son and a debunked conspiracy theory in exchange for foreign aid and a White House meeting for Ukraine are discussed in plain terms, even as Sondland... watch