The Briefing: Dems move rapidly to contempt

The Briefing, Vol. VII, Issue 19

This week:

  • Democrats move rapidly to contempt
  • Alabama Senate race gets crazy
  • North Carolina special primary this week

Biden catches on: The polls don’t lie: We were right that Democrats were desperately looking for someone like Joe Biden to jump into their race. Democratic voters, so far, seem to be far more interested in taking out Trump than in pure intersectional theory. Bernie Sanders is falling to the low double-digits, and the other also-rans are faring even worse. Kamala Harris has already had to “reset” her campaign as Pete Buttigieg eats into her Hollywood fundraising base. Beto O’Rourke has failed to catch fire, and so he’s taking progressively (no pun intended) wilder stances to get attention.

Still, the Left has its designs on Biden, which means he can by no means rest easy at this point. As this progressive group’s effort demonstrates, Biden has a long record that can and will be used against him by some Democrat who thinks he or she can benefit. Biden is also old enough that his age has been showing from time to time. Not that Trump is a spring chicken, but no one can call him “low energy,” or “sleepy,” at least.

Barr none: House Democrats are on the verge of holding Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress. They are seeking to punish him for refusing to violate the law and give them, under subpoena, privileged grand jury information that appeared in Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The latest wrinkle: House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., is now talking about issuing massive fines (along the lines of $25,000 fine per day) for failure to honor congressional subpoenas.

This is all a stunt, and it isn’t going to help anyone.

For context, House Republicans let Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, flout congressional demands for documents for nearly a year before they held their first vote on contempt. House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., didn’t even wait a full month.

What’s more, Holder didn’t have nearly as good a reason for failing to comply. It would literally be illegal for Barr to share grand jury information. Holder, in contrast, was asserting a very dubious presidential privilege claim over the administration’s gun-walking operations, something President Obama had publicly claimed he knew nothing about. Unless Obama lied about that, no privilege claim would have been possible.

This should demonstrate for any fair-minded observer that Democrats are really just playing politics at this point. If they were serious, they would open impeachment proceedings, but they know they don’t have grounds for it. There is no evidence that Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia or violated any laws in 2016, and the case for an obstruction of justice charge would be far too weak to prosecute.

Yes, Congress has a right to oversee the executive branch, and even to conduct its own investigation of Trump’s administration. But House Democrats would have to pass a new law to give themselves access to the redactions they are currently pretending to be upset about.

In fact, their complaint is just an excuse to do something that mollifies their left-wing base without actually having to put their necks on the line with impeachment. The public strongly opposes impeachment, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., won’t even consider it. There’s a reason for that.

Meanwhile, Republicans are looking forward to the release of an inspector general investigation into the FBI investigation, its origins, and misconduct behind it, including abuse of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants. Senate Republicans are able to play the role of demanding and publicizing information in this matter. Every release along those lines will reinforce Trump fans’ perception that the original investigation was a witch hunt and that the new congressional investigation is a political exercise in mollifying the Democrats’ left wing.

House 2019

North Carolina-9: State Sen. Dan Bishop, R, is expected to win and avoid a runoff Tuesday with more than 30 percent of the vote. Bishop, who authored North Carolina’s ban on municipalities forcing integration of men and women in bathrooms, would be a slight favorite over Democratic nominee Dan McCready, whose 2018 loss was cancelled out due to illegal ballot harvesting by an aide to Republican Mark Harris.

Bishop’s nomination, if it does come off as expected, could result in a race heavy on culture war issues.

Senate 2020

Alabama: We’ve remarked on how Republicans seemed on their way to blowing what should be a gimmee pickup of a Senate seat. But then state Rep. John Rogers, D, became famous for all the wrong reasons, and things really went off the rails.

Democrats appear on the verge of holding an ugly primary with abortion as their main issue. This is arguably the worst possible development for an already-weak state party.

It began with Rogers’ outrageous remarks about abortion on the floor of the Alabama state House. To paraphrase, he basically said that abortion should be legal because unwanted children grow up to be murderers who need to be executed anyway. “Kill them now,” he said, “or you kill them later.” Rogers went on to say that “retarded” babies were better off aborted, and added later that on those grounds Donald Trump, Jr. is the best argument for legalized abortion.

Merits aside, these remarks set off a scramble by Democrats inside the state to distance themselves from Rogers. U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D, actually called Rogers (whom he then considered a friend) to warn him that he would be denouncing his comments. Jones, after all, faces an uphill climb to protect his Senate seat next year.

The two men actually had two phone conversations, and they disagree about what was said.

The most entertaining and damaging version of the conversation is the one claimed by Rogers. He says that Jones actually acknowledged that he was right in his abortion comments, but that political expediency required him to distance himself. Rogers, apparently quite eager to vindicate his comments, proceeded to make Jones’ alleged comments public. Jones reacted with a not-quite denial, and Rogers responded with a fiery announcement that he was running against Jones in the U.S. Senate primary. He now says he has raised half a million dollars and will formally declare if he can raise half a million more.

Rogers is a longstanding black political leader in Alabama, and that’s what makes this a potentially perilous situation for Jones. Blacks cast 54 percent of the votes in the state’s Democratic primaries in 2016. Jones has proven popular among black voters so far, and Rogers’ antics may not change that. But that’s no guarantee. Jones might have a new vulnerability if he is perceived as disrespecting Rogers.

Rogers most certainly cannot win a general election in Alabama. Jones probably can’t either. In fact, in a high-turnout presidential election, he probably can’t even beat Roy Moore as he did in 2017. But Jones would at least have a chance, especially if Moore — who is running again — wins the nomination.

North Carolina: Sen. Thom Tillis, R, already has a primary challenger in retired self-funding businessman Garland Tucker,  who is trying to frame himself as a more pro-Trump choice. But last week, we got the first rumor of serious Democratic challenger when former state Treasurer Janet Cowell began putting out feelers about a run.

President Trump underperformed somewhat in North Carolina, skipping by with just under 50 percent. Tillis therefore  cannot count on a massive top-ballot Trump advantage as Republicans can in other states (like Alabama).

But it’s also worth noting that in 2016, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., outperformed Trump, but not by an enormous amount — a pattern that held for Republican Senate incumbents that year in Pennsylvania, Florida, and Wisconsin.

It is a certainty that Trump will invest heavily in the state alongside Tillis. The GOP in many, many places will rise and fall with Trump’s electoral performance.