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The Mueller Report Aftermath - Sunday Political Brunch April 28, 2019

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – “It’s not over ‘til it’s over,” baseball legend Yogi Berra famously said. And that yardstick works in politics as well as sports. President Trump believes Special Counsel Robert Mueller gave him a clean bill of health on the issues of collusion and obstruction. While the former may be clear, the latter has lingering doubters. The legal battle may be over, but the political fight is already underway. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Impeach; Don’t Impeach” – The Democrats have a problem. Although they have a big majority in the House (where impeachment must originate), it is truly a party divided. Many Democrats want to begin impeachment articles against President Trump, but key leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi do not. The main argument against, is that while Democrats probably have the votes to impeach the president in the House, they have nowhere near the 67 votes in the Republican-controlled Senate to remove him from office. Plus, there’s an election in 18 months where voters can dispatch him from the White House if they wish. Impeachment may not be practical here.

“Elizabeth Warren Strategy” – On the other hand, campaigning for impeachment may offer a big plus for some candidates. One of the biggest backers of impeachment is Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) Massachusetts, who is also running for president. She and Trump despise each other with a passion. "The accountability for the President lies through Congress. And that's the impeachment process," Warren said this week. Strategically this is a good issue for her. She can lobby hard for impeachment, even though she knows full-well it’s unlikely to ever happen. Since she’s in the Senate, she can nudge the House all she wants to start the process, with no real backlash. With 20 candidates in the race, each Democrat needs to find a way to stand out from the pack. This is Warren’s spot.

“The Bill Clinton Experience” – “Be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it,” is a tried and true old saying. I’m not sure who originated it, but it’s money. In 1998, Republicans may have over-played their hand in impeaching President Clinton. While much of the public was outraged over Bill Clinton’s personal indiscretions, many people did not think it rose to removing him from office. Republicans pressed ahead, but it backfired as a campaign issue in the 1998 midterm election, where the party out of power in the White House usually gains seats in Congress. Instead, Republicans suffered a net loss of five seats, and the rank and file rebelled, forcing Gingrich to resign as House Speaker, and from his seat in the House.

“Now and Then” – Yes there are similarities to 1998 and 2019, but there are differences, too. In 1998, Republicans held both chambers of Congress. In 2019, the House is controlled by Democrats and the Senate by Republicans with a 53-47 margin. But remember, the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate to remove an impeached president from office. In 1999, only 45 Senators (all Republicans) voted to remove Bill Clinton from office for perjury, and 50 voted (again all Republican), to remove him for perjury. They came far short of 67, and my guess is the same shortage would occur for President Trump. Undoing an election by the people is a tough task to accomplish.

“Finding 67?” – Well if you couldn’t find 67 Senators to remove Bill Clinton in 1999, how do you find 67 this year? Assuming all 47 Democrats currently in the U.S. Senate vote to remove Trump from office, you still need 20 Republicans to join them. The task gets even tougher when Democrats start to jump ship, and one already has. "The Mueller Report did not go down the path of impeachment. After two years of some of the top lawmakers, and the Department of Justice investigating this for two years, did not find that type of a cause," Sen. Joe Manchin (D) West Virginia, said to me this week.

“Let’s Get to Work!” – One of the common mantras of Democrats during Bill Clinton’s impeachment was essentially, “We have far more serious work in Washington we need to attend to.” Fast forward to 2019 and a lot of Republicans are singing the same tune about focusing on issues that matter to people. "Increase jobs, get an infrastructure package, help with the drug crisis, all the things that we've worked on. But if we get off into this circus of impeachment hearings, I think would be counterproductive," Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, (R) West Virginia told me this week.

“Biden In” – The other big political news this week was the entrance of former Vice President Joe Biden into the presidential race in 2020. Biden announced his candidacy in a polished campaign video distributed online. Right now, polling indicates that Biden is the clear frontrunner among Democrats, but it’s early and polls could be very volatile with 20 candidates. Maybe I’m old-school when it comes to campaign kick-offs, but I think Biden should have had a big rally with live broadcasts on the cable networks and online. Announcing via video is akin to “phoning it in.” Look at 76, one of his biggest tasks will be to convince voters that he has the vigor and energy for not only the campaign, but for the grueling job of president. The video announcement is by no means a fatal mistake, but I think a seasoned pro with 44 years of public service as Biden has, the kick-off was met with a thud. We’ll see!

Impeachment, yes or no? Click the comment button and let me know your vote and why?

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV Stations serving West Virginia and the five surrounding states, and much of the Washington, D.C. media market. He hosts “Inside West Virginia Politics” every Sunday across the state network.

© 2019, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

An Easter Political Pot Luck - Sunday Political Brunch April 21, 2019

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – It’s Easter Week and Passover, so nothing too ultra-serious this week. People always advise not to mix religion and politics, but I love breaking rules. Yes, there are some big political developments which we’ll chew on, but I’d also like to reflect on the importance of the season. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Mueller’s Redacted Report” -- Like many people, I’m counting calories these days, so when I hear that the Mueller Report will be “lightly redacted,” it makes me think about my chicken or fish dish in the restaurant that is billed as, “lightly breaded!” Am I getting what I want, or more than I bargained for? Okay, the Mueller Report is clear, there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Game, set, match, this part of it is over.

“But, What About Obstruction?” – The Mueller Report stated it could not come to a definitive conclusion about whether obstruction of justice occurred, although it pointed to 11 areas where potential obstruction was a concern. It’s still an open book, at least for Congressional consideration. This list includes issues where President Trump directed his underlings to take action, i.e. fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but the staffers refused to carry out the order. Oddly enough, staff mutiny on these issues may be Trump’s savior. Had a subordinate fired Mueller, Trump might be in huge legal trouble today. Remember, though, Congress still has a say and with Democrats in control of the House, watch for impeachment efforts.

“Judging Buttigieg” – First of all a pronunciation lesson, because his name baffled me to no end, too. He’s South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete “Buddha-Judge.” This week some protesters chanting Bible verses picketed him because he’s openly gay. He gets that and knows it comes with the territory. But some Democrats were also highly critical of Mayor Pete this week and that may be more troubling in a crowded primary field. There are voices who say that while Buttigieg is gay, he’s still a “white male” with all the privilege that supposedly goes with that. And that he did not endure the same type of long-term, systemic discrimination against blacks and women. In a primary field of 20-plus candidates, Democrats might cannibalize one of their own

“Beware ‘The Flavor of the Month’” – Mayor Buttigieg is very popular and trending. Last month it was Senator Kamala Harris, (D) California, who was polling in double-digits. In a social media world, I think we’ll see lots of changes. Remember the crowded Republican field in 2012? At certain points there were many frontrunners. They included former Senator Rick Santorum, (R) Pennsylvania, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, (R) Georgia, Godfather’s Pizza founder Herman Cain, Rep. Michele Bachmann, (R) Minnesota, and eventual nominee, former Gov. Mitt Romney, (R) Massachusetts. My point is, voters are prone to change their minds, and often. Democrats in 2020, are likely to have a see-saw battle as well.

“Fireman Trump” – One of the strangest stories of the week was the backlash against a tweet by President Trump, who suggested France use air tankers to try to extinguish the inferno at the Notre Dame Cathedral. I lived in California for 12 years and that’s how they fight massive wildfires. I raised the same question out loud in my newsroom. I now understand that it took extended time for some French fire crews to get to the scene, as it was rush hour traffic in Paris. There are those who will jump on anything Trump says. I get that. And Trump invites the incessant criticism with his non-stop tweeting. But I think the air-tanker inquiry was a fair question, at least from non-firefighters who were so frustrated and heartbroken watching the fire.

“A Time for Forgiveness and Redemption” – It’s easy to get caught up in Easter egg hunts, baskets of candy, and spring weather. But the religious message of the week is about forgiveness and redemption. That strikes me especially this year after the West Virginia Legislature passed three so-called “Second Chance” bills. Collectively, they would allow expungement of criminal convictions after a period that included drug testing, treatment, job training and a clean record; they would also allow convicted drug felons to regain food stamp benefits if they are clean; and rehabbed parolees could get legal IDs. All three laws are designed to make redeemed adults more employable. It was a bipartisan effort!

“Why the ‘Second Chance’ Matters” – Here’s the problem in West Virginia. We have the lowest rate of adult workforce participation in America, with less than half our adults holding a job. Yet, we have tons of jobs that are open, but too many people can’t pass a drug test. Then we have a lot of paroled inmates who’ve gone through drug treatment and are clean. The problem is, too many employers don’t want to take the risk and give them a second chance, so jobs stay open, and productivity drops. Many parolees re-offend, and it’s right back to jail. These second chances are designed to stem that vicious cycle. Let’s see if it works.

“Sharing a Kindness and a Good Ministry” – Much of the Christian faith (and others) focuses on these issues of redemption and forgiveness. Jesus Christ was crucified to redeem the collective sins of mankind, past, present and future. Many people go to church to ask forgiveness for their transgressions. But there are others in jails and prisons seeking the same thing. I want to give a shout-out for the Dismas Ministry - which in the interest of full-disclosure - is run by my sister Tyler. For more information see: www.DismasMinistry.org. It collects Bibles for inmates and holds religious programs and services for the incarcerated. By the way, who was Dismas? If you remember the scenes from Calvary, Jesus was crucified along with two other men, one of whom was Dismas.

Have a wonderful Easter and Passover weekend. Let’s not forget the reason for the season.

© 2019, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Mark Curtis Media

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