Shrieks, howls, fur flying, blood drawn: meet the Democrats

Will Rogers famously said, “I’m not a member of any organized political party; I’m a Democrat.” That boisterous, fractious, messy, irritating group was on full display in last night’s debate.  Despite reminders that “there’s more that unites us than divides us,” all six candidates at some point attacked and drew blood in a way most uncomfortable for those whose overriding concern is defeating Donald Trump in November.

Bernie Sanders, the outlier on the left, who has been consolidating his lead and widening his plurality margin, was angrier than ever, but emerged relatively untouched by the others’ attacks on him, those attacks all attempting to drive home that this Democratic socialist can’t beat the President.

Elizabeth Warren, desperate to turn around her fading fortunes, did just that.  She came out swinging, especially at the putative knight on a white charger, Michael Bloomberg, who was, by the end of the debate, reduced from a dominating stallion to a  Falabella (look it up!)  After all the hype about Bloomberg’s personally funded ad campaign and his rise in the polls, after all the hope he would be the one who could triumph as a street fighter on Trump’s terms, the billionaire former mayor was ill at ease and ill prepared. He had known he’d have to answer for his positions on stop and frisk, charges of a hostile work environment at his company, and his refusal to free women from non-disclosure agreements concerning charges he used inappropriate, sexually charged language in their presence.

He acknowledged he was embarrassed about his stop-and-frisk policy going too far, apologized, but could have given context and not looked as if he were doing a hostage tape. Biden called the policy “abhorrent,” and Warren told Bloomberg it was “not about how it turned out but what it intended.”

Bloomberg was a punching bag, but he never, even in his closing statement, championed what he would do as President.  He flatly proclaimed himself a successful manager but articulated no vision or demonstrated why he could beat Donald Trump. He may still advance his candidacy by spending lavishly to attract support from millions who didn’t watch the debate, but he missed a golden opportunity.  Savvy political consultant Michael Goldman wrote a brilliant prescription for what Bloomberg should have said in his closing. I shall post it immediately in my next blog.

Warren’s do-or-die aggressiveness worked, showing her as what one commentator called “the best political athlete on the stage.”  She is certainly the smartest and was incisive and strategic, even pausing at one point to be gracious toward Klobuchar, whom Buttigieg meanly attacked for forgetting the name of the president of Mexico. How many of us routinely have a brain cramp in trying to remember a name, even that of someone whom we know well? Thank you, Elizabeth Warren.

It was a petty and nasty attack by Buttigieg, obviously intent on ending Klobuchar’s momentum on the progressive but more moderate lane of the campaign trail. For her part, Klobuchar didn’t bounce back under attack as she had in the previous debate and almost became petulant in her rejoinder.

Biden had a strong night for Biden, but his weak debate skills continue to undermine his status as the best choice to defeat Trump. Regardless of his perceived general election strengths against Trump in battleground states, if he doesn’t place at least second in Nevada and win in South Carolina, it’s hard to see becoming the nominee.

Increasingly, it looks now as if no Democrat will have a majority of delegates going into the convention.  This was the historic norm for decades, and we shouldn’t be afraid of it. Any of the candidates on stage would be a better President than Donald Trump. The questions are: who can defeat him, and who will be strongest at the top of the ticket to provide coattails for down-ballot races and not jeopardize the party’s gains in 2018.

Debate’s winner? Donald Trump, with Bernie Sanders, who preserved his front-runner status, a close second.

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Jake Auchincloss: a top-tier player in race to fill Kennedy’s seat

With all eyes on the Presidential contest,  it’s still important to keep focus on down-ballot races.  With Cong. Joe Kennedy challenging U.S. Senate stalwart and climate change expert Ed Markey, more than seven candidates are vying to fill Kennedy’s fourth congressional district seat. The leaders (at least in fundraising) are City Year founder Alan Khazei, a highly effective community activist, and Jake Auchincloss, an Afghanistan war veteran in  his third term as a Newton City Councillor. Councilor Becky Grossman of Newton and Jesse Mermell of Brookline also appear viable.

Khazei, whom I’ve written about before,  couples passionate idealism with a track record of success in Washington and elsewhere. Auchincloss is stylistically cooler and approaches problems more as a dispassionate technocrat.  His top priorities are transportation and climate change, particularly the nexus between the two, since transportation generates 40 percent of carbon emissions.

So what has he accomplished on the transportation mess as the City Council’s chair of the Public Safety and Transportation Committee? Not much, he concedes, because “there’s not a whole lot you can do at the local level.”  He is well versed in the complexity of the issue, from local development controversies to environmental impacts.  National political leaders have come up short too, he notes, citing unwillingness to invest in infrastructure.  He proceeds from the premise that for 70 years we’ve planned development around the car, which hasn’t worked. The answers, he says, lie in multi-modal approaches – mixed use developments along with investments in buses, trains, roads, and  infrastructure for biking and walking.

Auchincloss is most passionate about transportation in the context of climate change. “There is no greater threat to humanity than our changing climate. And there is no greater daily struggle for Massachusetts residents than our broken transportation system.”  While pleased that the Green New Deal has “gone from being a hashtag to how to improve lives,” he disagrees with the proposal’s promise of jobs for all, which he calls “a recipe for bloat without creating higher wages or more productivity.”

Not surprisingly, Auchincloss has his eye on a spot on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, whose ranking member had been Somerville Congressman Michael Capuano, defeated in 2018 by Ayanna Pressley.  Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Ways and Means Chair Richie Neal of Springfield tapped Boston Congressman Steve Lynch to fill Capuano’s seat on the committee, and Lynch has enthusiastically embraced his role as a member.  Some states do, however, have more than one seat on this all-important committee, so a place for Auchincloss could perhaps not be out of the question.

Gun safety is also a top priority for him (as it is for candidate Khazei.) This week, on the second anniversary of the Parkland shooting, Auchincloss announced a six-point gun safety program.   As a Marine in Afghanistan, he slept, ate, trained, and patrolled with an assault weapon for four years. “In the Marine Corps,” he explains, “you keep any assault weapon behind three locked doors.” It’s three months “before they let you put a bullet inside the chamber.  These are weapons of war and death,” adding that there is no right for people to have such weapons of war in their homes, be they machine gun or semi-automatic. He proposes a mandatory buy-back,  a heavy lift when we remember how poorly it was received when advocated by former Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.

Domestically, Auchincloss supports building on the Affordable Care Act, including a public option, rather than Medicare for All.

Auchincloss’ maternal great-grandfather was a Russian Jew who fled the pogroms. His grandfather fought in W.W. II and went to college on the G.I. bill. That family history and his own wartime experience have heightened his interest in foreign policy. He asserts we should not be fighting two wars simultaneously (Afghanistan in Asia and Iraq in the Middle East), explaining that our involvement is a waste of blood and treasure, a misuse of American military power.  Although we’ve spent $6 trillion on Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, “those wars are strategically useless,” he says. “They’ve accomplished nothing.” He sees our core priorities in the Middle East as protecting Israel and eliminating safe harbors for  terrorists.

He worries about Congress’ having ceded power to the Executive over spending priorities and where we wage war. He maintains the Pentagon doesn’t need a trillion dollar budget.

Auchincloss’ descriptions of his accomplishments as a city councilor may seem a little thin.  He cites his communication with constituents, including regular office hours, a monthly newsletter, and overall trying to be objective and  analytical. That seems a low bar given our expectation that all our councilors should at least do that.  He also feels he has  moved forward the Council’s “conversation” on developing a progressive land use policy, and he is proud of Newton’s Welcoming City ordinance, which makes Newton effectively a sanctuary city.

Auchincloss is bright and policy-oriented and could be helped in the race by Newton’s being the largest community in the district, though fellow city councilor Becky Grossman, running for the same seat, may divide their home town support.  All the candidates – now as many as nine – face an uphill challenge in this oft-gerrymandered, serpentine Congressional district, which runs from Newton and Brookline in the north to Attleborough and other towns near the Rhode Island border.

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Downer Days for Democrats and Independents

If you believe in the U. S. Constitution, the dignity of the Presidency, the value of science, the importance of truth, civility and commitment to oaths to which one has sworn, this week has been a nightmare for you. and for me. Donald J. Trump has been acquitted in his impeachment trial, the State of the Union address was high on showmanship but low on facts, the Democrats’ 2020 campaign kickoff in Iowa was a devastating and embarrassing fiasco, and the Gallup Poll has announced a 49 percent, highest ever, approval rating for Donald John Trump.

The State of the Union speech was a campaign speech, with the President playing to his base.  Trump’s red meat included attacks on “tyrannical” Socialism, immigration,  and sanctuary cities. He also fed his base more on federal judges, the Wall, the Second Amendment, abortion, tuition credits for non-public schools. Many of the economic gains he cited were distortions of reality if not outright lies, largely designed to continue his long campaign to degrade his predecessor’s accomplishments.

Trump’s claim to be preserving coverage for patients’ pre-existing conditions – while his administration is in court to eliminate the Affordable Care Act protections – was especially nauseating, even more than his deceptive embrace of Social Security and Medicare protections.  His claiming total credit for the USMCA trade agreement is laughable when you remember the key roles of Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Springfield Congressman and House Ways and Means Chair Richie Neal in negotiating the post-NAFTA accord.

Perhaps the most jaw-dropping was Trump’s reality-TV  stagecraft highlighting the individuals whom he honored, many of them, for strategic reasons, were people of color.  The emotional strings he pulled by thanking a military mom and her kids and then bringing home the dad from his posting for a tear-filled reunion in the House gallery was stirring, if contrived.

And how can we forget having Melania Trump fasten the Presidential Medal of Freedom on  right-wing media uber-bully Rush Limbaugh, an honor previously bestowed on the likes of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Norman Rockwell, Colin Powell, Martha Graham, Helen Keller, Mother Teresa, Rev. Billy Graham and Admiral Arleigh Burke?  What Donald Trump rewards as heroism is tabloid celebrity and partisanship.

Most if not all of the event was highly partisan, going beyond the distinction of who claps and who gives a standing ovation.  Republicans’ prolonged chants of “four more years” left many Democrats and Independents in a cold sweat. At the beginning, Pelosi, in accepting the hard copy of the President’s speech, extended her hand to shake his.  He turned his back on her.  At the end, she tore up his mendacious script.

If one looks to the Democrats for a way out of this national debacle, the Iowa Democrats’ handling of their (hopefully last) grossly unrepresentative, first-in-the-nation caucus didn’t augur well.  Democrats seem not to realize that they need an extraordinary candidate to face an existential threat. They’re ill prepared to deal with Republicans crossing over to vote for Bernie Sanders in the New Hampshire and South Carolina Democratic primaries and the potential foreign interference still to come.

The Senate impeachment vote provided the final nail in the coffin for the party of Lincoln. Even once so-called adult Republicans distinguished themselves only by their craven fealty to Trump. The exception to this was Mitt Romney, the first Senator in U.S. history to split from his party on an impeachment vote.  He stood out with Democrat Doug Jones of Alabama, who also courageously voted his conscience despite expected political fallout from finding Donald Trump guilty.

Emblematic was spineless Maine Senator Susan Collins, who voted to acquit Trump on two counts of impeachable offenses because, she said with a straight face that she thought Trump had “learned a lesson.”  Not even a little.  Responding later to Collins’ comment at a news anchors luncheon, the President said there were no lessons to be learned, that he’d done nothing wrong.

Add to all of this, the Boston Red Sox’ trading away Mookie Betts (in a package that includes David Price) dealt a profound blow to the major potential distraction this summer from the political woes, and you can understand why it matters little to me that the equipment trucks have already left for Fort Myers and the first workout for pitchers and catchers is a week from today. Today, I just want to go back to bed, put the electric blanket on high and assume the fetal position.

I shudder to think that the Red Sox, who may take some serious rebuilding to return to the playoffs, may rebound more quickly than the nation.

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Too much down-side risk with Bernie Sanders

If the latest Iowa polls are to be believed, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are the front-runners. Since the peculiarities of caucus system turnout favor Bernie,  he is poised to win in Iowa.  

The Vermont senator also appears to be well ahead in New Hampshire, and he could upset expectations in Nevada.   It is increasingly clear that he could become the 2020 Democratic nominee. Sanders’ odds are one in four.  But, if Democrats want to beat Trump, they must halt the momentum building for a Sanders nomination.

He has justifiably  focused relentlessly on the critical issues of social and income inequality and the existential threats of climate change. And while Sanders often misses the mark on trade, his instincts are more on target regarding war and foreign adventurism.  He has inspired  great passion among his followers, especially younger voters,  who see their visions of the American Dream  slip away for themselves and their children. Some followers may be intoxicated by promises of free everything, but there is a romantic idealism to his “political revolution”  rhetoric  in support of “basic economic rights”, “quality health care” and a “clean environment” that has spurred millions of dollars in small donations to fuel his candidacy.

Sanders’s lone-claim-to-truth message hasn’t changed for  half a century; he is the undisputed my-way-or-the-highway prototype.  As fiction writer and political commentator Richard North Patterson has written: Sanders is “America’s least supple politician, captive to an unyielding inner vision which brooks no compromise. His candidacy is rooted in the unwavering belief that America is about to awaken to the rightness of his unwavering beliefs.”

The price tag on his proposals is staggering at a time when (due partly to Trump’s tax profligacy) the federal debt is off the chart. Take Sanders’ Medicare-for-All budget buster, which would also deprive more than 150 million Americans of private health insurance on which they comfortably rely, including union members who have given up wage increases for years to get better health insurance benefits.  Dealing with crushing student loans and providing better access to community colleges or job retraining programs are important. But providing free public college for every applicant regardless of income and eradicating $16 trillion in student debt regardless of need are unlikely to attract serious support.

Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics estimates that Sanders’  wealth tax proposal would meet the costs of  just 40 percent to 45 percent of his  big ticket programs. The rest would be paid, directly or indirectly, by Americans at large.

Even beyond the downside consequences, there’s a yawning gap between Sanders’ aspirational  goals and the steps needed to achieve them.  How much of Sanders’ agenda would ever get through a divided Congress? Sanders told the New York Times in his editorial board interview that he wouldn’t need to negotiate with Mitch McConnell because he’d marshal enough public support to overwhelm  GOP Senate opposition to his proposals.  But a majority of public support never moved Mitch McConnell take up the Merrick Garland Supreme Court nomination. Nor was he affected by the 75 percent public support for calling witnesses in the Trump impeachment trial.

Sanders’ young loyalists are as single-minded as their candidate,  not given to compromise or playing well with others.  If he loses the nomination again, I fear he won’t persuade his followers to support whoever is the party nominee, mirroring his failure in 2016. While some of them sat home and many voted for third party candidates, about 12 percent actually voted for Trump, providing more than Trump’s margin of victory in some key states.

Because of this, Sanders has been treated by his Democratic rivals with kid gloves and thus still has not been thoroughly vetted. Trump will not be as gentle. More attention should be paid to his time in Vermont, assessing his executive leadership skills, his body of writing, and his legislative record in the U.S. Senate.

Trump, who will surely campaign on the economy, would love to run against Bernie Sanders.  Polls show that there’s little support among the broad population for an avowed Socialist or even Democratic Socialist.  To many, more government intervention in their lives means not just the end of their access to private insurance but their experience with motor vehicle registries – on steroids.  Jeremy Corbyn’s devastating defeat in last fall’s UK elections should be instructive.

Trump’s campaign gurus must be salivating at the prospect of running against someone who supported the Socialist Workers Party in 1980 and 1984.   Think of how they’ll capitalize on his soundbites supporting the Sandinistas and Fidel’s Cuba. The GOP has a trove of opposition research they never had to use in 2016.

An op ed today in The Hill encourages Iowa Republicans to register as Democrats and vote for Sanders as the nominee. It’s not a stretch to imagine Trump supporters donating to Sanders for the same reasons. There was also evidence that in 2016 Russians supported Sanders as a way of helping Donald Trump.   

The buzz is with Sanders right now. He has appeal to similar anti-establishment populism that elected Trump nearly four years ago. But, to win in November, Democrats must  hold Minnesota and carry battleground states  Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and, perhaps, North Carolina and Florida. They must successfully target  swing voters—including suburban moderates, blue-collar workers, rural Americans, Republicans disenchanted with Trump, and  independent-minded women. This is how Democrats took back the House in 2018.

Sanders has refused to modify those of his messages that could broaden his appeal to these groups. In any event, it’s probably too late for him to change his stripes. Atop the ticket, he could undermine gaining Senate seats,  risk losing the House and poison other down-ballot Democratic candidacies. The Number One goal is defeating Trump. Nominating Sanders is not the way to do it.

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Impeachment: these truths should be self-evident

Watching the impeachment trial, waiting for the Senate decision on relevant witnesses versus brazen cover-up,  I keep thinking about three ridiculous arguments made by President Trump’s defenders and echoed incessantly on Fox and its spillover social media and blogosphere.  I have received considerable input on these legal considerations from my husband, Jim Barron, an attorney who years ago taught political science.

  1. Trump was improperly impeached because Congress needs to have a clear violation of criminal law, preferably one enumerated in the Federal Criminal Code,  in order to have an impeachable offense. This was at the heart of Alan Dershowitz’s head-scratching contorted defense two nights ago.

This is clearly wrong. To that claim, I suggest senators  and media observers reflect upon the example used by late constitutional law scholar  Charles Black, Jr., in his Impeachment: A Handbook:

Suppose a president were to move to Saudi Arabia so he could have four wives, and suppose he were to propose to conduct the office of the presidency by mail and wireless from there. This would not be a crime, provided his passport were in order. Is it possible that such gross and wanton neglect of duty could not be grounds for impeachment and removal?

This example shows the absurdity of the GOP and Dershowitz’s outlier assertion.

  1. To convict the president for allegedly impeachable offenses would unlawfully disenfranchise the millions of voters who voted for Donald Trump. It would overturn the election results of 2016.

No, it would not.  Aside from the  fact that the impeachment process is specifically provided for in the US Constitution, the votes of those who voted the Trump-Pence ticket would continue to be respected.  Hillary Clinton would not suddenly take over the levers of government. Mike Pence, an even more reliably right-wing ideologue than Trump, would become President. The votes of a majority of 2016 electoral college electors would be sustained.  The voters’ selection would stand.

  1. Convicting Trump for impeachable offenses would unfairly interfere with the 2020 Presidential race by depriving millions of voters –  nearly half the electorate- who zealously love Trump and his presidency from voting for their hero.

False. President Donald Trump could be impeached, removed from office and still run again for President in 2020.

The Constitution is quite clear about what the Senate can do when presented with a House-approved impeachment. Article I, Section 3, Clause 7 provides:

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States.”

The wording of the House’s articles of impeachment could influence the Senate decision. In 1974, the House Judiciary Committee specified only that Nixon “warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office.” In 1998, the impeachment articles  called for Clinton to be precluded from running for future office. The 2019 articles follow the Clinton language, but it’s not binding on Senators who have the discretion to vote only for removal from this office now.

So, even if the Senate convicts Trump and removes him from office — admittedly an unlikely proposition– Trump could be free to run again this year, and he could proceed with his re-election full throttle as if nothing happened.  If President Mike Pence agreed to roll over, Trump could easily be nominated again and, depending on the Democrats’ ticket, could even win a second term.

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New York Times comes down squarely on both sides

editorial board deserves some praise for revealing its process for endorsing in the Democratic Presidential primary. Some, far smaller, newspapers started years ago to post their candidate interviews on their websites.  Last night, The Times expanded its weekly documentary, “The Weekly,” from 30 minutes to one hour, to provide a video including several candidate interview snippets and bits of editorial board deliberations, then presented its editorial endorsement.  Opening up the process was an improvement but sometimes more reality TV than complete transparency.

The Times announced it will post complete transcripts of all candidate interviews on its website “over the next few weeks.” It has already posted the Bernie Sanders interview, amplified by editorial board annotations to augment or contextualize the candidate’s comments. They should have done that with all the candidates immediately. They should also include more than the “Readers Digest” version of their deliberations, available in print and podcast.  Their final product was a disappointing twofer, winnowing their preferences for each lane: Elizabeth Warren if you’re looking for a radical structural reorganization and Amy Klobuchar if you’re looking for a more moderate, evolutionary approach.  In leaving us with two choices, the endorsement dodged the central issue facing the Democratic Party.

As a longtime editorialist, I was trained to avoid a “both/and” approach to problem solving, no matter how difficult the dilemma.  Voters (unless, perhaps, we were to adopt ranked choice voting) don’t have the luxury of both/and. You go into the voting booth and mark your ballot either for candidate A or for candidate B.  Given the urgency we face in 2020, each voter must decide whether this country needs a fierce, brilliant, law professor who wants to rearrange the anatomy of the body politic or a strong, smart pragmatist who  has accomplished much legislatively and run successful campaigns in red as well as blue regions.  Which approach does the NY Times editorial board favor? Darned if I know. They clearly pulled their punches.

Voters, especially early primary and caucus voters, would have been better served by being able to see the entire editorial deliberation to ascertain which leadership characteristics and issues were most important to the editorialists and the extent to which those priorities resonated with them. (I’d like to have heard how they parsed the differences among Klobuchar,  Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Michael Bloomberg, though Bloomberg didn’t participate in the interview process. One potential moderate missing from consideration was Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, whose brother, NYT editorial page editor James Bennet, recused himself from the process.)

The editorial board notes a declining faith in the ability of our institutions to correct the societal inequities and myriad process perversions that challenge us today. The editorial posits the Democrats’ dilemma as a choice between solutions that are radical or those that are realist. In endorsing both Warren and Klobuchar, the Times is identifying their sense of the strongest candidate in each of the two categories. Let us hope that they drill deeper.

The overriding issue for voters in the Democratic Primary must be defeating Donald Trump. Without doing that and defeating him decisively, there will be no overcoming problems POTUS has either created or exacerbated.

What would my editorial have said?  that a non-radical pragmatist, committed to the values embodied in all the candidates’ positions but at a pace and tenor more inclusive than exclusive, is the way to win the independents needed for success in November.  (Think 1972, when the purists spurned Ed Muskie and nominated George McGovern.  They won the battle but lost the war, giving us a second term of Richard Milhous Nixon.)

Democrats must have a nominee who can enthusiastically rally all defeated primary candidates and form a team united behind common cause.   Editorial endorsements may not have the clout they used to have, but they can help voters to make a more informed choice. It’s dispiriting to think that the selection of Trump’s ultimate challenger could depend on a tiny minority of party activists in  two early non-representative states. It’s encouraging that the New York Times editorial board is experimenting with new ways to be open and constructive, with, optimally, more to follow.

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Senate proceedings against Trump a trial for us all

Though cynics may mock it as a bit theatrical, the somber demeanor of House leaders delivering the the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate did fit the gravity of the event.  Understanding the importance of the message conveyed by the picture, the pit in my stomach only grew as Chief Justice John Roberts and then the individual members of the Senate swore an oath to a fair and impartial process of trying the President of the United States.  Much is riding on what happens in the next few weeks.

I took as a good sign that Roberts didn’t add Iolanthe-inspired gold stripes to his sleeves as did presiding Chief Justice Rehnquist at the Clinton impeachment, so he later could donate his robe to the Smithsonian and take a tax deduction for it.  I took as a dark sign that so many Senators who have prejudged the matter at hand pledged to be fair and impartial with straight faces.

The weight of the moment is clear. The eyes of the world (if not of all the short attention-spanned citizenry of the United States) is on the process. Think of the nations that look to us as moral exemplars of judicial fairness and balanced governance. Given the seriousness of the charges, the integrity of our electoral process and the sanctity of the U.S. Constitution hang in the balance.  President Donald John Trump (as his name was intoned) is accused to trying to force a foreign government to interfere in our election by investigating POTUS’ political opponent) and then moving to cover up his action. In short,  despite Trump’s protest that impeachment is a sham, he stands accused of trying to subvert democracy. But he must have a fair trial.  The language of those oaths taken today must be fulfilled. Politicians have attention spans of beagles; history does not.

A fair trial necessitates the presentation of documents and questioning of directly relevant  witnesses, both of which the President truncated in the House. Even if Vice President Pence and Attorney General Barr are not called, we need to hear from relevant witnesses. We especially need testimony from former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who has said he will comply if subpoenaed, though he may be doing it less out of civic duty than to market his upcoming multi-million dollar summer blockbuster “tell-all book.”  Rudy Giuliani colleague Lev Parnas, who, despite (or because of?) facing campaign finance charges, has evidence directly linking Trump to the illegal actions. He may nor may not be a credible witness, but his testimony needs to be weighed fairly.  Similarly, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, directly involved in the quid pro quo with Ukraine should be heard, along with senior staff people Robert Blair and Michael Duffy.

The precedent is clear; the Senate has always taken testimony from witnesses, publicly or privately, in impeachment trials.  Comparisons to the Clinton impeachment are largely false. In that case, proceedings came after years of exhaustive investigations, and the facts were never really in dispute.

The question is: will there be enough moderate Republicans in the upper branch who, having sworn to impartial justice, will put country above party and insist on having witnesses and fair procedures. Arizona Senator Martha McSally’s screed against CNN’s Manu Raju today doesn’t augur well for other electorally-challenged GOP incumbents to view the President while not on bended knees. At the same time, despite the validity of that need for witnesses, I was not happy to see Minority Leader Chuck Schumer hold a press conference outside the chamber right after the swearing in of Roberts and the Senate.  I agree with what he said but was turned off by the timing and inferred naked partisanship.

As a practical matter, if Trump wants the opportunity to declare himself exonerated, he must present a credible defense. Witnesses for both sides should be seriously considered. This is about more than Donald Trump. The integrity of the Senate is on trial. How Roberts handles his role will influence how our independent judiciary is viewed. The future of our Constitutional republic is at stake. If I had confidence in the process and its outcome, perhaps I wouldn’t have this pit in my stomach.

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