Trump and Sondland

S3E30: Impeachment and The President

On today’s show we tackle the all important questions of impeachment.  Will Donald Trump become the 4th president in American history  to face impeachment?

What does his base have to do with it and where are the polls?

And, importantly, where are the Republicans and the Democrats?

I have some surprising opinions about both parties when it comes to the two parties.

Take a listen:

Today’s news on impeachment

Let me start with the day’s news.  As I mentioned in today’s podcast, The New York Times is reporting Gordon Sondland is being blocked by the White House from testifying to Congress.

The decision to block Mr. Sondland, a top American diplomat involved in its pressure campaign on Ukraine, hours before he was scheduled to sit for a deposition in the basement of the Capitol, is certain to provoke an immediate conflict.

House Democrats have repeatedly warned that if the administration tries to interfere with their investigation, it will be construed as obstruction, a charge they see as potentially worthy of impeachment.

For those who read yesterday’s blog know Sondland was part of the controversial texts sent between several ambassadors at the heart of the impeachment investigation.

Those texts were released last week.

In them Sondland, who has nothing to do with the Ukraine since he is the ambassador to the EU, appears to be in direct contact with the White House. 

On one exchange between Sondland and Ambassador Taylor, Taylor explicitly complains about what he believes is going on:

If you notice there is five hours between the last text and the one before it.  Democrats want to know what happened to Sondland during that time.

The White House is refusing to allow the ambassador to testify.

The Courts and Donald Trump

As I mention in the podcast, the Courts appear to be on Trump’s side as he argues to keep his tax returns out of the hands of New York legislators and the US Congress.

This all goes back months after US district Judge Amit Mehta heard a case involving Trump’s tax returns. The White House was trying to prevent Congress from seeing the returns.

Mehta rule against Trump.  The law was clear cut.  But Trump went to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals where he and Mitch McConnell are loading up with Trump judges.

There the law did not seem so clear. Trump judge Neomi Rao asked the Trump Justice Department to weigh in before any ruling.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department, acting as Trump’s personal attorney, not only sided with Trump on the Congressional subpoena, but sided with him on the state subpoena’s trying to block NY State from getting his returns from a third party.   According to the Washington Post:

Their logic was sweeping: that Trump was immune from any criminal investigation — of any kind, by any prosecutor — while president.

“The Framers eliminated this possibility, and assigned the task to . . . Congress” through the impeachment process, Trump’s attorneys wrote. They asked a judge to stop the subpoena: “Because [Vance’s] subpoena attempts to criminally investigate a sitting president, it is unconstitutional.”

Vance’s office argued that Trump’s attorneys were stretching presidential immunity far beyond what any court had intended.

Yesterday, the Court responded to the Justice department’s assertions calling the above description of presidential power “…repugnant to the nation’s governmental structure and constitutional values,”

He rejected the administration’s request and ordered the tax returns released to Cy Vance.

Trump has asked the next court above him, the court of appeals, to put the ruling on hold while they mount an appeal. That hold was granted.

Impeachment.  Who supports it and who doesn’t?

In the podcast I mention a NY Times interactive article . It details who supports impeaching Trump and who doesn’t.

The article notes, as of the writing: “A small group of House Democrats, mostly freshmen in more conservative districts, have not endorsed the inquiry.”

As for Republicans: “Some House Republicans appear to be open to further investigation, but none explicitly support an impeachment inquiry. A small group have avoided making public statements on the matter.”

What does the polling say?

 The polls are all over the map for impeachment.  Denise from California references the following CNN report on the historical polling regarding impeachment:

Americans are more eager to impeach Trump now than they were at similar points in the impeachment sagas of Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon.

Impeachment actions usually start off as being unpopular with the American public.

…an impeachment inquiry of Clinton in October 1998, a CBS News/New York Times poll found that 45% approved and 53% disapproved

But with Trump, those numbers are reversed. In an average of polls taken since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal inquiry last week, 51% support an impeachment inquiry. A minority, 44%, are against it.

More amazingly, more Americans are in favor of impeaching Trump now than they were at a similar time during the House’s investigation of Nixon in 1973 and 1974.

But as I mention, Fivethirtyeight is not as bullish on the issue of impeachment.   They call conclusions on the support for impeachment “murky” (which i tend to agree):

If the effect of the Ukraine scandal is that people who already disliked Trump simply dislike him more, Trump’s reelection chances may not be hurt that much.

…one other data point to keep an eye on is Trump’s approval rating — if the scandal is turning any supporters into opponents (or at least skeptics), it will show up there.

In summary, here in the early days of the Ukraine/impeachment drama, Trump’s popularity has stayed within the narrow range it has inhabited since February (41.0-43.1 percent for his approval rating, 52.3-54.3 percent for his disapproval rating). In other words, the Ukraine scandal still hasn’t eaten into Trump’s true base of support.

What do Republicans in red districts think?

According to this Politico piece, a democrat who flipped a red district, still sees support for Trump.

“Trump’s efforts to paint Biden as corrupt for trying to oust a prosecutor who at one point was investigating a company tied to his son Hunter appeared to resonate among his supporters who attended Casten’s town halls — some of whom were wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and “Trump 2020” t-shirts.

…a woman tore into Pelosi and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, accusing them of “lying their little butts off” and saying that a whistleblower’s complaint about Trump’s interactions with Ukraine’s president “looks like a bunch of 13-year-old girls gossiping.”

Another supporter told the Politico writer Rep. Casten was wrong when characterizing Trump as actively suppressing the facts.  And that the congressmen was cheapening the discourse by calling the imprisonment of immigrants at the boarder racist and Republicans going after VP Biden as conspiracy theories.

How is this affecting Biden?

There does not appear to be much damage being done to Biden.  As I mention in the podcast The Hill reports Biden is up in South Carolina:

Biden received 41 percent support from South Carolina voters, a 6 percentage point increase from July, when he held a 21 percentage point lead above his opponents.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also saw a boost to 12 percent support, while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) dropped to 10 percent support.

But The Washington Post repots there is room for Trump and his Republican allies to get traction on this claim.

The 42 percent who believe the Biden claim may simply be Trump’s die-hard base, but it’s worth noting that it’s still more than those who disbelieve it (37 percent).

Independents also say 43 percent to 31 percent that they believe it’s “probably” true. Even 1 in 5 Democrats (19 percent) believe it, suggesting it could factor into primary votes.

UPDATED 6:18 PM EST: The Supreme Court hears LGBTQ discrimination cases

The Supreme Court got off to a controversial start, hearing a case on LGBTQ rights. There are two cases Bostock v. Clayton County and Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC. At issue is title VII of the Civil Rights Act of ’64 which bars employment discrimination.

Few people may know this, but in a number of states within the US, you can be fired for being gay or transgender or queer. But many would naturally believe that would be against title VII since the statue says you cannot discriminate because of, among many other things, sex.

According to Amy Howe of SCOTUSblog, Neil Gorusch, of all people, appears to be the swing vote. The associate justice appears uneasy about the social upheaval the case would cause if the court ruled for the plaintiffs.

In Bostock, Howe frames the day as this:

Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan, arguing on behalf of two men who contend that they were fired from their jobs because they were gay …

The lawyer tackled two issues.

#1 – Congress must have meant to include gays in the civil rights act and even if they did not express it explicitly, the Court recognizes the protections today.

#2 – The issue of same sex bathrooms and dress codes which animates the right, is a “straw man” and has nothing to do with employment and therefore this case.

Arguing on behalf of the employers, attorney Jeffrey Harris had to grapple with questions from Gorsuch and some of the court’s more liberal justices about the text of Title VI I.

Elana Kagan said, for employers (plaintiff) to win they would have to prove the firings had nothing to do with the gender of whom the workers were attracted to. That is to say, the men were fired for attraction to other men, if they were women attracted to other men they would still be employed.

Gorsuch pushed back against Harris’ efforts to distinguish between sex and sexual orientation, pointing to the fact that Title VII only requires sex to be a cause. If Bostock and Zarda were men who liked other men, Gorsuch asked Harris, why wouldn’t that be enough to bring Title VII into play?

A second case, Funeral Home, involved Aimee Stephens – a funeral home director:

Stephens had gone by the name of Anthony and dressed and appeared as a man until 2013, when she announced that she intended to live and work as a woman and would eventually have sex-reassignment surgery.

Thomas Rost, the owner of the funeral home where Stephens worked, fired Stephens because she “was no longer going to represent himself as a man. He wanted to dress as a woman,” which Rost believed would violate “God’s commands.”

David Cole on behalf of Stephens says she was fired due to her decision to change her gender. Howe again quotes Gorsuch:

..he asked Cole, should the justices consider the “massive social upheaval” that would follow a ruling for the plaintiffs? Given the possibility that Congress did not consider this issue, Gorsuch posited, it might be a more appropriate task for Congress, rather than the judicial branch.

Alito jumps into the fray saying in the future the Court could have to deal with sports and athletics, Could banning transgenders from playing in certain sports based on their new gender be a violation of their civil rights?

John Bursch, for the Funeral Home, says equality among the sexes does not mean employers must treat men as women.

Bursch suggested that, if the plaintiffs prevailed, an overnight shelter for women would have to hire a transgender woman, even if some of the women at the shelter had been the victims of domestic violence or rape.

Justice Stephen Breyer dismissed what he described as Bursch’s “parade of horribles.” We are deciding, Breyer said, simply whether discrimination against transgender people falls within Title VII’s ban on discrimination “because of sex.”

The Trump justice department lawyer Noel Francisco, brought up religious objections to LGBTQ communities still need to be respected.

But Justice Sonia Sotomayor interrupted him, asking when the Supreme Court should intervene to stop “invidious discrimination.” Title VII was born from a desire to treat people equally, she said, but gay people are still being fired just because of their sexual orientation. At what point, she asked, do we say that Congress did address this?

In his rebuttal, Cole emphasized that interpreting Title VII to cover LGBT employees would not short-circuit the democratic process. Interpreting laws, he told the justices, is what courts are supposed to do; if Congress doesn’t like the Supreme Court’s interpretation, it can always change the law.