We began today with Yuriko Schumacher and James Barragán of the Texas Tribune as an indictment-drenched summer continues with headlines moving today from Atlanta to Austin as the impeachment trial of suspended Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton begins.
The Senate gallery will be open to the public daily, beginning at 8 a.m., with tickets distributed for the morning session on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 7:30 a.m. on the Capitol’s third floor. Tickets for the afternoon session will be distributed 45 minutes before the gallery reopens. The trial also will be livestreamed on the Texas Senate’s website and at texastribune.org.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick will act as judge. Senators, serving as jurors, will consider 16 of 20 articles of impeachment. The Senate previously voted to delay consideration of the other four. Paxton’s wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, will sit as a member of the court but will not vote on any decisions or participate in private deliberations.
The trial will begin with the court clerk reading aloud the 16 articles. Paxton, who was ordered to appear in person, or his lawyer will plead guilty or not guilty to each article. On the first day of the trial, some witnesses are also ordered to appear outside the front door of the Senate chamber at 11 a.m.
Jim Henson of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin did some comprehensive polling of Paxton’s favorability that shows that even given the “parallels” between the legal circumstances of Paxton and Trump, Paxton is nowhere near as popular as Number 45 with Texas Republicans.
2. Erosion in public assessments of Paxton is evident in his job approval ratings, including among groups that are relatively more supportive of his position in the impeachment and trial. We delved in depth into this topic in the post accompanying the release of the poll. Paxton’s net job approval ratings (the difference between shares approving and disapproving) among all voters fell from an already low -11 in June to -19 in August. Among Republicans, it fell from +32 in June (51% approve/19% disapprove) to + 23 in August (46/23), and among conservatives, from +23 in June (50/27) to +14 in August (46/32). Among rural voters, his net approval plummeted from net +25 in December 2022 (53/28) to net +3 in June 2023 (36/33), then to net -1 in August (35/36). […]
5. While there exists a history of political connections between Paxton and former President Donald Trump and even parallels between the pair’s legal and ethical jeopardy, support for Paxton among his Republican constituents lacks the persistence of the incredibly durable support Republicans maintain for Trump. Paxton does not enjoy the unwavering support in Texas that has been a hallmark of the space Trump occupies among his following in Texas. An look the trend in Paxton’s job approval ratings among Texas Republicans, and in Trump’s job approval numbers during his turbulent presidency as well as his favorability ratings since his reluctant exit from the White House illustrate how sharply Paxton’s ratings have suffered from his impeachment in late May (from 73% in December 2022 to 46% in August 2023), while Trump’s numbers have remained remarkably consistent, despite some evidence of erosion in his favorability ratings between June 2021 and August 2023 (from 86% to 79%).
Chris Smith of Vanity Fair thinks that in spite of the latest pundit buzz (and President Joe Biden’s Labor Day speech in Philadelphia yesterday), Biden will continue, by and large, to not attack Trump’s legal woes.
For Biden, the attempt to stay above the fray is a relatively easy choice. His brand is all about returning Washington to functioning normally, and the contrast he wants to draw is that he, unlike Trump, is a believer in the nonpartisan dispensing of justice. “I think the president has been clear on the issues that underlie all of these indictments, like the issues of democracy, of the rule of law, of having an independent justice department,” a Biden insider says. “The irony of people being like, Why won’t the president comment on the indictments? Part of what Trump is indicted for is weaponizing the Justice Department! And people want us, in some sense, to do the same thing? Why would we do that? Our guy stands for the opposite of that.” The ongoing federal investigation of the president’s son is also a disincentive: Biden commenting on the cases against Trump while Hunter Biden is still under scrutiny by a special counsel would give oxygen to Republican what-about-ism.
Beyond the White House, though, the prevailing silence is more nuanced and somewhat harder to understand. Six Senate Democrats have a solid reason: Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Joe Manchin (West Virginia), and Jon Tester (Montana) are running for reelection in states Trump won in 2020; Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin), Bob Casey (Pennsylvania), and Jacky Rosen (Nevada) are running in states Trump barely lost. Bashing the former president could be counterproductive for them; better to focus their campaigns on local issues as they try to win over independents. But then there’s Hakeem Jeffries, House Democrats’ leader, whose job in the minority could arguably be entirely centered on attacking Trump’s candidacy and legal troubles. He, too, has been careful in his comments. “The Trump indictment and the facts that will continue to emerge from the legal process speak for themselves,” Jeffries told CNN in June. […]
In both the 2020 presidential election and the 2022 midterms, impatient Democrats and pundits worried that Biden was waiting too long to get his act together or that he was emphasizing the wrong messages. Yet selling “the soul of America” worked for Biden three years ago and talking about the general threat to democracy resonated with voters last fall, as Democrats exceeded dismal expectations. “He was widely criticized for not focusing on the economy, for talking about democracy and reproductive rights,” the Biden insider says of the midterms. “And he was proven right.”
In 2008, Barack Obama was elected POTUS primarily because the American electorate trusted him with the mandate of getting us out of Iraq and restoring a good economy.
In 2020, Joe Biden’s mandate was that he not be Donald Trump.
Basically, be a good steward of the country and, more importantly, do what you were elected to office to do.
Jelani Cobb of The New Yorker reminds us not to repeat the mistakes of President Gerald Ford, this time in a matter I just learned of today.
In early August, 1975, President Gerald Ford granted amnesty to a polarizing figure whose actions had posed a grave threat to American democracy. The man in question was not Richard Nixon, whom Ford had pardoned eleven months earlier, but General Robert E. Lee. After the Civil War, the prospect of prosecution had loomed over former members of the Confederacy. In 1865, President Andrew Johnson issued a proclamation that absolved most of them but excluded, among others, Confederate leaders and those who held property worth more than twenty thousand dollars. Three years later, Johnson, who felt that it was simply time to move on, issued another proclamation, which expanded the pardon to include the men, such as Lee, who had organized and led the rebellion. Still, having renounced their U.S. citizenship and taken up arms against the government, they were required to swear an oath of allegiance and make a formal request to regain their rights. Lee’s application was lost—one theory holds that Secretary of State William H. Seward gave Lee’s paperwork to a friend as a souvenir—and he died, in 1870, a man without a country.
When Ford reinstated Lee as an American citizen, albeit a dead one, he stretched the truth to the point of prevarication. Lee’s character, Ford remarked, had been “an example to succeeding generations” and the reinstatement was therefore “an event in which every American can take pride.” Nixon’s pardon was far more controversial, but it followed a similar logic. Speaking to Bob Woodward, in the late nineties, Ford explained that Watergate had become such a debacle that there was no hope of making progress on any domestic or foreign-policy issue until it was resolved. He was, in his telling, motivated by concern for the nation’s fate, not Nixon’s. Despite the scale and the destructiveness of his predecessor’s actions, he argued, it was time for the nation to move on.
Late last month, Donald Trump, the twice-impeached, serially indicted former President of the United States, arrived at a courthouse in Atlanta, Georgia, to face charges stemming from his alleged attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election. By then, the spectacle of a former President being indicted had gone from unprecedented to old hat. In addition to the sprawling Georgia case, grand juries have returned indictments against Trump in a business-fraud case brought by District Attorney Alvin Bragg, in New York, and in two federal cases brought by Jack Smith, a special counsel for the Department of Justice: the first, in Florida, relates to the mishandling of classified materials, and the second, in Washington, D.C., to election interference. (Trump has pleaded not guilty in all of them.) The most damning charges appear in the election cases, which concern Trump’s attempts to retain the Presidency after being voted out of office. Those attempts, of course, culminated in the January 6th assault on the U.S. Capitol—the most significant threat to the peaceful transition of power since the conflict at the center of Robert E. Lee’s forfeited citizenship.
Alex Seitz-Wald of NBC News wonders whatever happened to relatively quiet summer months on the political front.
By tradition, business would largely halt for what Thomas Jefferson dubbed the “sickly months” of late summer in a capital city supposedly (but not actually) built on a swamp. “No good legislation ever comes out of Washington after June,” quipped Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vice president John Nance Garner.
And the August of an off-off year like this one — when there’s neither a presidential nor a midterm election in the fall — should have been as quiet as politics gets. But even the quiet moments of American politics these days can be cacophonous. […]
This August also saw the indictment and arrest of a former president (twice), a racially charged mass shooting, a racially charged brawlnear a Mississippi riverboat, an active shooter scare at the U.S. Capitol, a police raid on a small-town newspaper amid a national debate on press freedom, the ongoing Hollywood actor and writer strike and the first GOP presidential debate of the 2024 election.
“It used to be that even the most addled political junkies got to dry out in August,” said Liam Donovan, a lobbyist and former GOP campaign operative. “But between the new season of Law & Order: MAGA and Trump’s would-be challengers desperate to gain traction via the debate stage, this year offers even less of a respite than usual.”
Cathy Young of The Bulwark offers some interesting and informed speculation about what the death (?) of Yevgeny Prigozhin reveals about Putin’s Russia.
Prigozhin’s rebellion brought with it new revelations. Among other things, it showed how weak Putin’s vaunted domestic support in Russia really was. No one took to the streets in defense of the government when it faced a serious enough threat to make the president and other top officials flee Moscow. When Prigozhin and his men took over Rostov-on-Don, the locals cheered. The Wagner rebels’ sojourn in Rostov also left a visual that provides a striking metaphor for the state of Russia in 2023: a tank stuck in the entrance gates of a circus.
Another unexpected truth bomb came from Putin himself. The Kremlin autocrat was evidently so piqued by his “chef’s” betrayal that he publicly confirmedsomething investigative reporters such as those at Bellingcat had long said and Russian officialdom had long denied: that the Wagner group was not a “private military company” but an outfit fully funded by the state, to the tune of nearly $1 billion in just the past year. (In other words, Wagner was the Kremlin’s instrument for what Bellingcat called “deniable black ops.”)
In turn, former Russian faux president and current deputy national security chief Dmitry Medvedev was sufficiently spooked by the rebellion not only to hightail it to Turkey but to also make a de facto admission that Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling was a bluff. “In the history of the human race there has never been a situation where the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons was controlled by bandits,” Medvedev told the Russian news agency TASS. “Such a crisis will obviously not be limited to a single country. The world will be brought to the brink of annihilation.” Never mind that Medvedev himself had been the Kremlin’s point man for threats of nuclear apocalypse if Russia were thwarted in its quest to destroy the “Nazi” regime in Kyiv. Indeed, he made such a threat again ten days after the rebellion. At that point, one could legitimately ask whether “bandits” were currently in charge of Russia’s nuclear arsenal—or whether Medvedev’s panicked outcry during the aborted coup shows that he knows the current Russian leadership won’t risk an apocalypse.
Edward Wong and Julian Barnes of The New York Times report that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will travel next month to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mr. Putin wants Mr. Kim to agree to send Russia artillery shells and antitank missiles, and Mr. Kim would like Russia to provide North Korea with advanced technology for satellites and nuclear-powered submarines, the officials said. Mr. Kim is also seeking food aid for his impoverished nation.
Both leaders would be on the campus of Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok to attend the Eastern Economic Forum, which is scheduled to run Sept. 10 to 13, according to the officials. Mr. Kim also plans to visit Pier 33, where naval ships from Russia’s Pacific fleet dock, they said. North Korea celebrates the anniversary of its founding on Sept. 9.
On Wednesday, the White House warned that Mr. Putin and Mr. Kim had exchanged letters discussing a possible arms deal, citing declassified intelligence. A White House spokesman, John F. Kirby, said high-level talks on military cooperation between the two nations were “actively advancing.” U.S. officials declined to give more details on the state of personal ties between the leaders, who are considered adversaries of the United States.
Finally today, Annabelle Dickson and Eleni Correa of POLITICO Europe report that Britain’s Labour Party leader Keir Starmer has moved the Labour Party back to the center in anticipation of next year’s general election.
The Labour Party chief sent the soft-left wing of his party into full retreat on Monday with a dramatic shadow Cabinet reshuffle that rewarded a string of MPs on his party’s right flank.
It marked the final stage of a three-year project which has seen Starmer take ruthless grip of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing party and drag it steadily back to the center ground, echoing the 1990s modernization led by Tony Blair and pal Peter Mandelson. […]
With Labour commanding an 18-point poll lead over the ruling Conservatives ahead of next year’s general election, Starmer’s picks for his top team are a clear indication of who will hold high office if he wins power.
Have the best possible day everyone and thank you all for your support! See you tomorrow!