Monthly Archives: October 2019

The Mick Mulvaney Press Briefing

On Thursday, October 17, 2019, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney held a press briefing where he was asked about the alleged connection between holding up aid to Ukraine and Trump’s desire for help investigating the Bidens.  He somewhat dug himself in on the subject of a quid pro quo, because although he didn’t admit to withholding funds to force an investigation of the Bidens, he did seem to be admitting to having demanded cooperation from the government of Ukraine with the DNC server investigation, which involves an already-discredited conspiracy theory of Ukrainian collusion with the Democratic National Committee.

Here’s the complete video of that press briefing, and this particular portion starts at spot 19:15.

Since then, he has attempted to walk back that admission.

Article in Politico, October 20, 2019

NPR report, October 20, 2019

The Fourth Democratic Debate

The field is still crowded:  twelve of them were on the state in Ohio Tuesday night, October 15.  Marianne Williamson wasn’t there; Tom Steyer was.  Tom Steyer?  I don’t remember hearing his name before either, but he’s apparently a billionaire, so he can bet on his taxes going up if Bernie Sanders has his way.

Elizabeth Warren was on the defensive about her Medicare for All plan.  She and Sanders are actually behind the exact same plan, but it was Warren who got the biggest grilling on it this time around.  Here’s what the conflict hinges on:  Warren and Sanders claim that the plan will lower costs for the middle class over all.  Sanders clarifies that yes, the middle class will be paying higher taxes, but they’ll be saving money because premiums and deductibles will be gone.  The thought that comes to my own mind when I hear that is, what about all the people in the middle class whose insurance is provided by their employers?  This plan would save the employers premium money, but I don’t think the employers will automatically funnel that into salary raises for the employees.  In any event, Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar favor “Medicare for all who want it,” also known as “public option” tacked onto Obamacare.

Things got tense between Warren and Klobuchar over heath care policy, between Tulsi Gabbard and Pete Buttegieg over policy in Syria, and between Buttegieg and Beto O’Rourke over gun control policy.  Cory Booker expressed concern that such tensions would play into Republicans’ hands.  He also resented the moderators for grilling Biden about the actions of his son Hunter.

And, here are some links:

The entire debate on CNN:  part 1part 2part 3part 4

Commentary from the Washington Post

Commentary from NPR

Commentary on Politico

(There’s loads more commentary you can find by surfing around these news sites and others.)

Trump and the Pullout from Syria

In a perfect world, the United States wouldn’t have troops in Syria or anywhere else in that part of the world at all, and ordinarily the thought of troops being brought back home would be something to celebrate.  However, Trump’s decision to withdraw the thousand-troop force from eastern Syria right now is problematic for a basic reason: it represents stepping aside for Turkey to move in.  When Turkey moves in, Turkey is almost certain to attack the Kurdish forces, precisely the people who have been fighting cooperatively with the United States all this time, managing the detention of captured ISIS fighters and their families, and incurring almost all of the battle losses.  About 12,000 Kurds have died in this war effort, compared to about 5 or 6 Americans.

America’s goal has been to fight the Islamic State, or ISIS, and there’s been a fairly substantial success.  The spiritual and command center of ISIS, the Caliphate, has been taken down.  However, ISIS still exists, and it could very well make a resurgence.  But beyond that, what Trump is doing appears to the Kurds to be a betrayal of them, and many say it will make it harder for the United States to enlist the help of allies in the region, since the United States, as represented by Trump, apparently can’t be trusted.

And now, a word about Trump himself.  In the modern-day structure of the executive branch, the president has expert advisors in droves on every imaginable subject, and a normal president consults with those advisors before making drastic decisions, and makes decisions with the help of those advisors.  A normal president is likely to ask a team of advisors to draw up a plan that the president can follow.  The final decision, of course, is the president’s, but a normal president makes it with the help of advisors.  Trump doesn’t do that.  Trump makes major decisions on the fly, frequently taking his key cabinet officers and White House staff advisors by surprise.  Many times they learn of his decisions from his tweets.  This particular decision was made in a series of phone conversations with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Senator Lindsay Graham, usually a Trump supporter, is shocked by this move.  Rand Paul, however, being of a more antiwar persuasion, supports it.  (Both of those senators were in the early primary lineup against Trump in 2015, though neither got far.)

Story in Politico, October 8, 2019

Discussion on NPR, October 9, 2019

The Precarious Impeachment Inquiry

In the whole saga surrounding Trump’s July phone conversation with the president of Ukraine and the House impeachment inquiry, things change so fast that it undoubtedly won’t be long before the questions and concerns of today have been superseded by a host of new developments and revelations.  However, right now the Democrats appear concerned that Trump may successfully stymie the impeachment inquiry.  House committees, controlled by the Democratic majority, are in the process of subpoenaing both witnesses and documents from the Trump administration.  Trump has announced that they won’t be getting any more of either.

The White House’s basic complaints about the process include the fact that the House has not taken a full-House vote to launch an impeachment inquiry, and that in the present process the Democrats aren’t letting Trump cross-examine witnesses or see all of the transcripts of House hearings, which the White House considers a violation of due process.  The counterargument to that is that a House impeachment inquiry is not a trial, but rather, something closer to a grand jury indictment proceeding, where the defense typically isn’t represented because the only question is whether the prosecution has a case.

The way the discussion is going now, it appears that the Democrats have two choices.  They can fight Trump’s refusal in court, which could end up dragging it out for a year–long enough to bring us up to the 2020 elections–or they can proceed with the information they do have available and add Trump’s current stance to the articles of impeachment as obstruction of justice.

One thing is for certain: Americans are going to continue, for quite some time to come, to view what’s going on through two different narratives, with Trump’s supporters viewing the impeachment effort as frivolous and a “witch hunt,” and with Trump’s critics viewing Trump as a criminal who deserves impeachment and worse.  And, like it or not, these competing narratives are going to play a significant part in the 2020 elections, not only for the presidency, but also–just as important–for party control of both chambers of Congress.

Story in Politico, October 8, 2019

Another story in Politico, October 8, 2019

White House letter to House Democratic leaders, October 8, 2019

Discussion on NPR, October 9, 2019


Cases Coming Up in the New Supreme Court Session

The Supreme Court just came into session, and it’s hearing a number of significant cases this year.

LGBTQ and transgender discrimination:  Some states have laws protecting individuals from employment discrimination for being gay and/or transgender, but most states don’t.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which established federal authority over discrimination on the basis of race or sex, doesn’t refer to sexual or gender orientation.  However, the Court is being asked to apply the prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sex to both of these types of discrimination.  Two cases are being considered together: one involving a gay man, Gerald Bostock, who was fired from a child welfare services coordinator job in Georgia for being gay, and the other involving a transgender woman, Aimee Stephens, who was fired from a job at a funeral home in Michigan after starting her transition from male to female.  In a nutshell, one argument for applying the 1964 law to gay persons is that if it isn’t possible for a man to be fired for being married to a woman, it shouldn’t be possible for a woman to be fired for being married to a woman.  For transgender persons, the argument is, if you hired me as a man, you shouldn’t be able to fire me now for being a woman.

Report by Amy Howe on SCOTUS Blog, October 8, 2019

Nina Totenberg’s report on NPR, October 8, 2019


Non-unanimity on juries.  This case is very relevant to federalism.  Each state makes its own laws for courtroom procedures, but certain time-tested traditions a fairly pervasive, including the rule that a jury verdict has to be unanimous.  But a couple of states have deviated from that.  Louisiana has repealed its non-unanimity rule but it still applying it for crimes committed before repeal; Oregon still has a non-unanimity rule.  Will the Court allow these states to go their own way with it, or require them to follow the unanimity tradition?  Arguments were heard this week, and interestingly, it was Trump appointee Brett Kavanaugh who raised the concern that Louisiana’s non-unanimity rule was rooted in racism: it dated back to the Jim Crow days when that state’s courts would allow one black person to serve on a jury but use that rule to prevent that individual’s vote from affecting the verdict.

SCOTUS Blog, October 7, 2019

Story on Quartz, October 8, 2019


Insanity defense.  Another thing most states do is allow a defendant to plead not guilty to a crime by reason of insanity.  Not all states do, however, and the Court is hearing a case from Kansas.  Will the Court rule that failure to allow the insanity defense violates due process?

SCOTUS Blog, October 7, 2019


Abortion.  It’s universally known that conservatives want the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the ruling that required states to permit abortion, overturned, and that states have been passing laws for the purpose of getting that ruling challenged in fresh new cases.  Back in 2016, while Anthony Kennedy was still on the Court, the Court struck down a set of laws in Texas that imposed special restrictions on the operation of abortion clinics, restrictions that were clearly designed to make it as hard as possible to perform or get abortions.  This season, the Court is hearing a case from Louisiana involving very similar laws.  The question is, will the Court follow the precedent of the 2016 ruling, or, now that Brett Kavanaugh has replaced Anthony Kennedy, scrap that precedent and make a new one?  For this case, the justice to watch is Chief Justice John Roberts.  Roberts dissented in the 2016 case, but he could still decide that the 2016 ruling is the controlling precedent whether he agreed with it back then or not.

Story on Quartz, October 4, 2019


Gun control.  What, exactly, does the “right to bear arms” in the Second Amendment mean?  Does it mean the right to own any and every kind of firearm, including assault rifles that the framers of the Constitution couldn’t have imagined would be invented?  So far, all that the Supreme Court has to say is that the right to bear arms includes the right to own a pistol at home for self-defense, and that this rule is enforceable on the states.  But we may get a broader ruling.  New York City’s gun law, the toughest in the country, until recently put heavy restrictions on the transportation of even unloaded guns across the city line, making it hard for a city-dwelling gun owner to take a gun to a firing range outside of the city.  Large parts of that law have since been repealed, but that’s not stopping the Supreme Court from hearing a challenge to it this season.  The big question is:  Will this result in a broad ruling that blocks other kinds of gun control as well?

SCOTUS Blog, October 7, 2019

All of these cases will probably be decided in the spring.  In the process, we will undoubtedly learn much about the Court’s two newest justices appointed by Trump and confirmed by a Republican-majority Senate, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.  Are they the consistent ultra-conservatives they are perceived to be?