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A moderate congresswoman went all-in for Trump. Her constituents think they know why.

By Griff Witte
A moderate congresswoman went all-in for Trump. Her constituents think they know why.
Rep. Elise Stefanik reveals frustration after trying to question (ruled out of order) Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch during the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump in Washington. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Bonnie Jo Mount.

GLENS FALLS, N.Y. - When Rep. Elise Stefanik ran for reelection in 2016, observers here dubbed her "the tightrope walker" for the way she delicately tiptoed around the question of Donald Trump.

She had once insisted he could never win the Republican nomination. Once he did, she kept him at a careful distance - acknowledging, when pressed, that she supported the man at the top of her party's ticket while generally avoiding any mention of his name.

Three years later, with Trump's presidency on the line, Stefanik, R-N.Y., shot to his defense with all the subtlety of a human cannonball.

Given a national platform during impeachment hearings, the Harvard graduate leveraged her post on the House Intelligence Committee to do battle with Trump antagonists over their "crumbling" case and to present herself as "the 35-year-old Republican congresswoman standing between Democrats and our American Democracy."

"A new Republican star is born," Trump tweeted approvingly.

Democrats, meanwhile, shook their heads: Why would one of Congress's most moderate Republicans - with a carefully nurtured reputation for bipartisanship and independence - go all-in for a president on the brink of being impeached?

Seen here from her Upstate New York district - a vast region of vertiginous Adirondack mountain peaks and far-flung valley towns known collectively as the North Country - there's a lot less mystery. And a lot more clarity about how the politics of impeachment are playing out far from the fevered congressional hearing rooms where Stefanik rose to national prominence this fall.

The country may be divided over impeachment, with about half of voters opposing it and half supporting it. But weeks of open hearings have failed to give Democrats any momentum among independents, and the vast majority of Republicans remain adamantly opposed.

In a reasonably solid Republican district like this one, where politics has become increasingly polarized, there's no appetite for ambiguity among the voters who define Stefanik's base.

"When I saw her on Fox News, I said, 'This is who we elected - someone who will stand up and fight,' " said James Grinter, a 74-year-old Vietnam veteran, retired social worker and Stefanik campaign volunteer. "People say, 'Well, she's just become a mouthpiece for the president.' But I feel like this is one area where she and the president have to agree."

The dynamic here in Glens Falls helps explain why, when the House votes next week on whether to make Trump the third president in American history to be impeached, at least a few Democrats are expected to break ranks - but Republicans will almost certainly stand united.

That wasn't always assured. When Democrats began their push for impeachment in early fall, congressional watchers thought the strength of the allegations against Trump could convince independent-minded Republicans to jump on board.

Some even dared to venture in that direction, publicly musing that the evidence suggesting Trump had used his office to pressure a foreign government to intervene against a domestic political opponent was troubling and credible.

But those who did so tended to lack a crucial ingredient in any politician's life: a plan for winning reelection.

One, Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, had already declared he wouldn't run again when he pronounced Trump's call with the Ukrainian president "inappropriate." Another, Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., said he wanted to "get all the facts on the table" - then announced his retirement a day later amid a furious backlash from his Trump-loving constituents.

Stefanik - young, ambitious and with every apparent intention of seeking a fourth term next year - chose a different path.

Since winning her House seat at age 30 - at the time, she was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress - she has compiled one of the Hill's most bipartisan records. On key votes - including Trump's signature tax cuts - she has bucked the president. As recently as last month, she crossed the aisle to keep the government funded.

But on impeachment, she has hugged Trump tight.

When the Intelligence Committee held impeachment hearings last month, she provoked a high-profile clash with the chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., over the rules of engagement. She joined the committee's most ardently partisan Republicans in news conferences to proclaim Trump's innocence. And she popped up on the president's favorite prime-time show - Sean Hannity, on Fox News - to assure the nation that "there was no quid pro quo."

Despite subsequent testimony from Trump's handpicked ambassador to the European Union that there actually was one, she has not backed down. The case against the president, she has said, is weak and born of a Democratic vendetta.

"I'm proud of what I said in the impeachment hearings," Stefanik said in an interview.

But she also pointed to the reality of politics in her district, which Trump flipped after two straight wins for Barack Obama and carried by 14 points.

Whatever she may have thought about Trump in 2016, "voters made their voices heard very strongly. They wanted someone who's not traditional, who's going to break up the status quo."

Stefanik had arguably been part of that status quo - a Republican insider who worked in the George W. Bush White House and for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. When Paul Ryan squared off with Joe Biden in the 2012 vice presidential debate, Stefanik helped to prep him.

In her 2014 bid to represent New York's 21st Congressional District - she had grown up in Albany, just beyond the district's boundaries - she pitched herself as a new breed of Republican, one willing to break with party orthodoxy on issues like the environment and same-sex marriage.

But to critics, her recent turn toward Trump has revealed her true character.

"She was putting up a facade of being a moderate, bipartisan," said Joe Seeman, a local liberal activist. "It was an absurd act. And now the facade is long gone."

Stefanik's opponent in 2018 - who is also her presumed rival for 2020 - has struck similar notes. Democrat Tedra Cobb, a former county legislator, pulled in $1 million in fundraising in the days after Stefanik's impeachment performance by questioning whether Stefanik was truly independent and vowing to "put problem-solving ahead of political gamesmanship."

The local Republican Party chair, Michael Grasso, acknowledged that Stefanik had "put a bull's eye on her back" by taking such a prominent stand on impeachment. That, he said, was fueling cash infusions for both campaigns.

But, notably, Cobb has not emphasized impeachment in her local pitch - suggesting that even if it helps pull in donations, it is not necessarily a winner among voters.

Political prognosticators continue to rate the district as a good bet for Republicans. And local officials say that, if anything, the tide has been turning further in the GOP's favor as impeachment has dominated the debate in Washington.

"The vehemence of people who hate Trump has increased," said Mark Westcott, a former local Republican official and informal Stefanik adviser.

But in a district where Republicans hold an approximate 50,000-voter registration advantage, impeachment has also helped rally party members around the president, he said. Even Republicans who were skeptical of Trump in 2016 - he and Stefanik among them - are firmly in his camp on the question of whether he should be forced from office.

Stefanik's role in the impeachment hearings was "a little different for her," offered Dan Stec, a Republican state assemblyman.

"But people are frustrated. They're sick of it. They're not watching it. They're not talking about it," he said. "Politically, is this safe for her? I think her constituents want it."

At Poopie's diner - a Glens Falls institution serving pancakes and burgers straight off the griddle - there's no question about that.

"It's all a big hoax," said Jerry DiManno, the 65-year-old owner, as he served up plate after plate of steaming hot breakfasts one frigid December morning. "I used to vote for the Democrats. Now I'm on Trump's side all the way."

At the front of his restaurant, DiManno has set up a shrine to the president - complete with framed portrait, Trump books and Trump doll. A photo of Stefanik is on the wall, too.

"We love her here," he said.

Not everyone in Glens Falls agrees, of course. The small city - long ago dubbed Hometown USA by Look magazine because of its all-American vibe - is relatively liberal compared to more rural parts of the district.

At the local paper, the Post-Star, editor Ken Tingley said he had heard more objections from readers to Stefanik's behavior than support for it.

But even before the hearings, he said, there were already sharp divisions. Those were most vividly on display over the summer and into the fall, when pro- and anti-Trump demonstrations repeatedly snarled traffic in the city's quaint downtown as rival groups squared off with shouts and insults.

"This has not been a very political area," Tingley said. "But Trump has brought something we've never seen before, something I never would have expected in a place like Glens Falls."

'Mrs. Maisel' still flies high with its low-stakes comedy

By Hank Stuever
'Mrs. Maisel' still flies high with its low-stakes comedy
Rachel Brosnahan as Midge Maisel in

(EDITORS: This article discusses some key plot points in Season 3 of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.")

- - -

In its third season, Amazon Prime's "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" couldn't exhibit more moxie if it tried.

Yet it tries! As a viewer streams the eight episodes that premiered last week, the colors just get brighter and the wide shots get more meticulously and vividly nostalgic - look, it's the old Las Vegas! Here's Miami Beach's Fontainebleau Hotel in its prime! And wouldja look at the Garment District all abloom with racks of floral dresses? The show's music become toe-tappier, the comedy gets hammier and the oy gets vey-ier. What's not to like? (Don't answer that!)

If I didn't know better, I'd suspect creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and her collaborator husband, Daniel Palladino, harbor some insecurity about losing the show's pep, to use a Mrs. Maisel-y word. Its verve. Its vim.

Maybe they've heard from some of the malcontents who also drop me notes about the show, saying they don't like it as much as all their friends do. It's boring, they say. Nothing happens. It's annoying.

Or, because the show has been such a success (including multiple Emmy wins for Seasons 1 and 2), the dings against it grow more serious, pointing out how very white and very privileged Midge Maisel's world is - as if it were not a show about a very white and privileged (be sure to add Jewish) woman and her family in New York circa 1960.

Sherman-Palladino and company have done what they can to address those criticisms, introducing a subplot of lightly reduced financial circumstances in the Maisel family and a whiff of the civil rights movement in the world at large (more on that in a moment). But there's a bigger problem at the center of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," which for some of us isn't a problem at all:

It's a low-stakes show.

We're so used to talking about, analyzing and praising high-stakes shows that we forget that most of what's on TV qualifies as low-stakes. Network comedies are almost always low-stakes shows, as are crime procedurals and most dramas. Characters have ups and they have downs, but the fluctuations tend to be short and resolvable. It's the television most of us grew up watching.

Why, then, can't "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" merely exist as a prestige iteration of the low-stakes show, featuring a character who is resplendent in her surroundings, quick with the cute quips and striving while not exactly suffering?

Why can't her panicky antics simply serve the show's zany momentum, without unleashing existential crises or darker themes? In fact, isn't the show honoring its period setting by keeping it light? That's how America so capably managed to sweep most of its social injustices under the rug for so long - by keeping it light. I look at the manic sunniness of "Mrs. Maisel" as a subversive form of accuracy.

Midge (played with thoroughly consistent pep, verve and vim by Rachel Brosnahan) is a low-stakes heroine in a low-stakes show with a set of low-stakes problems: Will she become a famous comedienne? (Maybe! Probably! Who cares?) Can she keep her hands off Joel (Michael Zegen), her increasingly honorable and belatedly adorable ex-husband? (Could you?) Will she and Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby) have a wild fling? (What, and ruin the frisson between them?) What happens to Midge's parents (Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle) now that he's given up his tenured slot at Columbia and lost the vast prewar apartment that came with it? Will Midge's manager, Susie Myerson (the great Alex Borstein), be able to juggle Midge's career and that of the wickedly demanding comedy legend Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch, contributing a season-saving performance)?

So many questions, not a one of them really needing an answer. "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" wants to be breezy and fun. Its detractors want it to be something weightier.

Perhaps that's because we pay extra for it. As the streaming wars heat up and monthly subscription bill alerts buzz continually on the phone ("You just paid Hulu $12.70" ... "You just paid Disney Plus $7.63"), viewers will increasingly insist that the content reflect the price. That typically means high-stakes television, where characters endure prolonged agony, where every episode is an anxiety attack and entire worldviews are challenged, upended. Mrs. Maisel could bump into Don Draper on Madison Avenue, but the two would have nothing to talk about. He represents prestige television; she represents ... well, what does she represent? (And for that matter, must she represent anything?)

Ostensibly, the long arc here is your basic, mid-century feminist reckoning - a Bryn Mawr girl who followed the rules, got married, popped out two kids and then realized she's too funny and too bright to not give herself a shot at becoming a star. We've followed her on that course, where the fun outweighs the frustration every time.

This season, the show tried to capitulate with a negligible dose of stronger medicine. Midge and Susie go on a national tour with Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain), an African American pop singer. They soak up a taste of fame - Midge is a hit in Vegas; she and Shy become friends and confidantes. Sterling K. Brown ("This Is Us") contributes an effective, but surprisingly minimized, performance as Reggie, Shy's tell-it-like-it-is manager. Here and there, we get the sense that "Mrs. Maisel" might like to take us inside the tricky lives of touring black musicians in the early '60s, made trickier by the fact that Shy is a closeted gay man.

But it takes seven out of eight episodes for the show to get where it's going with this and other seemingly important matters, and it goes there grudgingly - a low-stakes show dragged into a high-stakes zone. In the season finale, Midge finds herself opening for Shy at Harlem's storied Apollo Theater, where, gallingly, she is placed higher on the night's billing than the black comedy pioneer Moms Mabley (a brief but ingenious cameo part for Wanda Sykes).

"I'm not ready for this," Midge pleads to Reggie backstage. "I haven't earned this."

"Maybe you should cut back on the Jewish brisket talk a little," Reggie offers.

And so, what seems like a triumphant, cross-cultural performance turns into a disaster for Midge, but even here it's a low-stakes plot masquerading briefly as a high-stakes moment. The "Mrs. Maisel" perkiness will prevail, because it can't help itself. The viewer's job here is to watch (or skip) the show that has been made, not the one that hasn't.

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"The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" (eight episodes) is available for streaming on Amazon Prime. (Disclosure: Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Filing frenzy shows companies lining up for poor area tax breaks

By Noah Buhayar
Filing frenzy shows companies lining up for poor area tax breaks
A tower is seen at Tyson Food Inc. in Center, Texas on Dec. 9, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Sergio Flores.

There wouldn't be much of an economy in Center, Texas, without Tyson Foods Inc. The company has a sprawling chicken-processing plant in town and employs about 1,600 people in a city of just over 5,000 near the Louisiana border.

So, when Tyson signaled two years ago that it wanted to build a $50 million feed mill, Center's economic development director, Jim Gibson, was eager to find a location and suggest tax abatements.

Before long, Tyson keyed in on a new benefit: a tax break signed into law by President Donald Trump, aimed at luring new investments to thousands of low-income areas across the country dubbed "opportunity zones." Center and most of the surrounding area sat squarely in one.

"One of the people from Tyson said, 'I think we're going to make a run at doing these,'" Gibson recalled.

That was in private. Tyson-the country's biggest meat processor, with roughly $40 billion in annual revenue-announced its plans for the feed mill in February as it began to seek a separate local tax abatement. News reports and minutes from two county meetings where the project was addressed make no mention of opportunity zones.

The company wasn't required to say anything publicly about its plans to use the federal subsidy. But like scores of businesses and investors in recent months, Tyson left a faint paper trail. It beat a path to Delaware-where more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies have a legal home-to lay the groundwork for claiming one of the most controversial and generous benefits in Trump's 2017 tax overhaul.

Once heralded as a novel way to help distressed parts of the U.S., opportunity zones are now being slammed as a government boondoggle. The perks are being used to juice investments in luxury developments from Florida to Oregon. And several reports have shown how politically connected investors influenced the selection of zones to benefit themselves.

While Tyson's feed mill fits more squarely with what lawmakers intended, it still highlights the lack of comprehensive data on who's claiming the benefits. Congress is now calling for changes to the legislation to boost transparency.

In the meantime, supporters can point to anecdotal evidence that the benefits are spurring development in areas that really need it, and detractors can cite examples of waste.

An analysis of almost 400,000 Delaware Division of Corporations records since the start of 2018 provides a fresh glimpse into what's going on. After starting slowly last year-as states selected zones and the U.S. Treasury Department wrote regulations-the number of filings referencing opportunity zones accelerated dramatically. There were at least 356 entities containing acronyms or phrases associated with the tax breaks in June alone, and more than 1,800 through the end of September.

Real estate investors and developers, a group that gravitated to the tax breaks early, make up a big portion of the list. But the records show that the appeal is broader, extending to previously unreported efforts by Tyson, AT&T and NextEra Energy. Billionaire hedge fund managers Steve Cohen and Bill Ackman have also made filings.

Tyson said it weighs a variety of factors when looking to expand, including the availability of workers and infrastructure. Government incentives often play a role, too, and were part of the equation for the new feed mill, said Derek Burleson, a spokesman for the Springdale, Arkansas-based company.

"Opportunity zones were created to help spur private development in economically challenged areas, and we believe this project will do just that," Burleson said in an email. "We see this as a significant investment in the community that will create new jobs with great benefits and make a positive impact on the local economy."

A spokeswoman for AT&T, which changed the names of two entities after an inquiry from Bloomberg News in July, scrubbing references to opportunity zones, said the company is evaluating programs to invest in the areas. NextEra, the world's largest utility company by market value, declined to comment, as did spokesmen for Ackman and Cohen.

The filings underscore the lack of transparency surrounding a federal subsidy that could cost billions of dollars, said Brett Theodos, a senior researcher at the Urban Institute who has studied opportunity zones. And it shows why the government should gather more information both about individual projects and the impact on communities as a whole.

"These are the exact types of investments that we will never learn about, absent more disclosure," said Theodos. "We should know how the government is spending our money, and it shouldn't fall to investigative journalists to figure this out."

That there's any record owes in part to jargon Congress used when drafting the law. Taxpayers who want to claim the benefits must hold their investments in a "qualified opportunity fund," a corporation or partnership that has most of its assets in "qualified opportunity zone" property.

Lawyers often use shorthand such as QOF or QOZ in naming the entities, even though it's not required, said Jessica Millett, head of the tax practice at Duval & Stachenfeld in New York who has structured dozens of opportunity zone deals.

"It just helps you remember what's what," she said, adding that Delaware was probably seeing a large share of the filings because of its longstanding reputation for being business-friendly.

Even so, the filings are just clues to what's going on, often giving little more than a name and date of formation. Many entities have names that are too generic or opaque to scrutinize, such as SM QOZB 3 LLC, created in September. Owners couldn't be identified in such cases.

Among those that can be are prominent developers or their projects. More than four dozen entities are tied to Starwood Capital Group, Brookfield Asset Management or RXR Realty, which are raising hundreds of millions of dollars to build in the zones.

Socially minded investors are also represented, including a $200 million effort started by retired Tennessee Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan and another called Arctaris Impact, which has pledged to report publicly on its investments and pursue projects that benefit poor communities.

But, so too, are entities that likely stretch what lawmakers intended for the tax breaks. In July, someone used the Corporation Trust Co., a registered agent that handles many Delaware filings and can help obscure the identities of filers, to create a business called QOZ ART STORAGE QOF 2019, LLC.

Creating the companies or partnerships is no guarantee that a taxpayer will claim the incentives. Both Cohen and Ackman formed entities in June that were intended to allow them to invest in the zones, but neither has done so yet, according to people familiar with the filings who asked not to be identified discussing the hedge fund managers' plans.

Just because investors and corporations aren't broadcasting their plans doesn't mean they're doing something untoward, said John Lettieri, chief executive officer of the Economic Innovation Group, a Washington nonprofit that helped conceive of and promote opportunity zones. Companies often hold back information for competitive reasons, he added, and sometimes even philanthropic efforts are undertaken anonymously.

"On its face, it doesn't concern me," Lettieri said. "When you make a charitable contribution, you can choose to get your name plastered on a building or choose not to." Even so, he added, the government needs to be gathering more information about investments in the zones so that it can better evaluate whether the incentives are effective.

In October, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service released new forms that will require funds to say in which opportunity zones they have property and declare the value of those assets. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin called it an "important step toward a thorough evaluation" of the incentives.

But researchers were quick to point out the shortcomings of the forms, which won't provide information such as the types of projects being funded or their precise locations. And because the disclosure is part of a tax return, the data may never be made public, said Samantha Jacoby, a senior tax law analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress are advancing measures to gather more information. Among them is a bill introduced last month by Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden that would bar certain kinds of investments, including stadiums, and require funds to file detailed public reports each year.

More transparency would allow the public to determine whether the incentives actually work as intended and discourage bad actors, Wyden said.

"This is kind of Sunshine 101," he added. "What I keep coming back to is: Are the investment dollars largely benefiting those who are well-off in affluent communities? Or are they to support new projects in truly low-income communities?"

Center is the kind of place that could use the money. The poverty rate hovers around 30% in the Census tract where it sits, making it a shoo-in for the opportunity zone designation. But investors haven't exactly been beating down the doors.

"It's just not the happening spot in Texas right now," said Gibson, the economic development director.

The community lacks the skilled workforce that attracts businesses and real estate development to bigger cities, he said, adding that he couldn't think of an opportunity zone project in the area, other than the Tyson feed mill.

Construction of the facility on a site outside town and adjacent to a rail line has already begun, according to Gibson. When it opens in 2021, it will churn out chicken feed for nearby poultry farms. About 40 people will work there, with an annual payroll of about $3 million.

In addition to the opportunity zone benefits, Tyson is getting a five-year break on its county taxes for the mill. But the company decided to forgo another program that would have allowed it to cut payments to the local school district, Gibson said.

"It'll be really good for the schools," Gibson said. But, in the end, the number of jobs is pretty minimal, compared with the size of the investment, he added. "It's not one of those transformational game-changers."

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Bloomberg's David Ingold, Scott Moritz, Miles Weiss and Dave Merrill contributed.

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

Impeachment is rare. Republicans' histrionics are historic.

By dana milbank
Impeachment is rare. Republicans' histrionics are historic.

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019, and thereafter.

(For Milbank clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By DANA MILBANK

WASHINGTON -- "Today is an historic day," CNN reported Thursday.

"Historic day on Capitol Hill," agreed CBS.

"Historic," MSNBC concurred.

They were off by a syllable. History would have to wait. This was a day was for histrionics.

Both sides had planned to wrap up the impeachment debate in the House Judiciary Committee by about 5 p.m., allowing Republicans to attend a White House Christmas party. Lisa Collins, wife of ranking Republican member Doug Collins (Ga.), wore sequined red holiday finery to the hearing.

But mid-afternoon, Collins had a brief private word with his wife and made an announcement to the committee Democrats: "We're going to be here a long time tonight," he said. "There's plenty of balls we can go to, so if anybody thinks that might be in our plans, don't worry about it ... because if we have to fact-check you all night, we will."

He wasn't kidding. Republicans floated amendments and assaulted the process -- for 14 hours. Democrats deduced that Republicans were delaying so they could say the committee approved impeachment articles "in the middle of the night" -- much like they complained that the Intelligence Committee held hearings in a "basement" (neglecting to mention that's where the committee's hearing room is).

So Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., answered the GOP stunt with one of his own. "It is now very late at night," he said at 11:15 p.m., then summarily announced the committee would recess for the night so members could "search their consciences" and vote at 10 a.m. -- in broad daylight.

Republicans erupted.

"Stalinesque," hollered Rep. Louie Gohmert (Tex.). "Let's have a dictator."

"Chairman Nadler's integrity is zero!" said Collins. "Kangaroo court ... I have never seen anyone want to get in front of these cameras more than this group right here."

And with that, Collins went -- you guessed it -- in front of the cameras, to deliver some more epithets: "Bush league! ... Runshodding the rules!"

Fox News's Chad Pergram pointed out that Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., had hours earlier congratulated Nadler on his handling of proceedings.

No longer, Collins said. "We have members who have flights! We have members who are getting on trains!"

Impeach the president, sure. But don't mess with lawmakers' travel plans. This impeachment is historic, in the sense that it is rare, only the third in the nation's history. But it seems more like an extension of politics as usual. Republicans aimed for this: If they could turn the proceedings into a circus, they could discredit President Trump's impeachment. Maybe they succeeded, because the Fox News-viewing public remains steadfastly opposed. But in the process they have bludgeoned not just this impeachment but impeachment itself, the powers of Congress, the legitimacy of government, the law and any sense of objective truth. What's historic about this moment is the near-complete dysfunction of, and loss of confidence in, American democracy.

Heckuva job, Putin.

In between Fox News appearances, Republicans in the hearing room Thursday vied for the most-Trumpian insults -- "Y'all are an EPA hazardous waste site," Collins offered, and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida mocked Hunter Biden's drug use -- and some Democrats responded in kind. Rep. Cedric Richmond (La.) likened Republicans to Judas, betraying Americans "for 30 positive tweets."

Overnight, Republicans produced a new poster for the dais, with red horror-movie letters over a graveyard scene saying "It's Friday the 13th. ... Chairman Nadler's Impeachment Nightmare." For the impeachment vote itself, Republicans marched silently from their cloakroom Friday morning and maintained solemnity as each voted against the two articles, and each Democrat voted for. After just seven minutes, both articles had been approved. The clocks in the Ways & Means hearing room displayed 10:09 a.m.

Then Republican committee members went straight to the cameras in the Longworth Building lobby and resumed the previous night's epithets.

Gohmert: "Abuse ... Outrageous ... Kangaroo court ... Witch hunt ... Scam ... Crucify ... Farce."

Debbie Lesko (Ariz.): "Travesty ... Unfair ... Rigged railroad job ... Corruption."

Mike Johnson (La.): "Charade ... Rigged ... Ambush ... Radical left."

Gaetz, fresh from his derision of Biden for drug addiction, said: "For Democrats, impeachment is their drug."

Asked about the behavior of Trump, who just used the power of the presidency to attack a teenager on the autism spectrum as having an "anger-management problem," Republicans' epithets suddenly ran dry.

Johnson excused Trump's latest disgrace as "unorthodox." By contrast, he said, the Democrats would pay "a huge political price" for impeaching Trump.

If only Republicans cared about the huge price we will all pay for their decision to defend a president's wrongdoing with a Trumpian campaign of reckless invective.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

It's time for Remainers to admit it: They lost

By megan mcardle
It's time for Remainers to admit it: They lost

MEGAN MCARDLE COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT RELEASE)

(For McArdle clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By MEGAN MCARDLE

WASHINGTON -- It's hard for an American to grasp the magnitude of Boris Johnson's electoral landslide. Britain's prime minister will return to office with the largest majority since Maggie Thatcher's salad days. But even that doesn't quite capture it. To understand just how badly Britain's conservatives have blitzed the opposition, consider the constituency of Blyth Valley.

Blyth Valley is a former mining area in England's northeast. Labour has carried it in every election since the constituency was created in 1950. The Tories won it Thursday night -- narrowly. Nonetheless. This was, I was told by Keith Humphreys, a Stanford psychiatry professor who has done quite a bit of policy work in the United Kingdom, a political earthquake "akin to the GOP winning the NYU School of Humanities." And it was repeated throughout the night as Conservatives stormed constituency after constituency, including more old Labour redoubts that the party had held since before World War II.

But even if Americans have little intuitive grasp of the subtleties of British politics, we can understand the most important effect: Britain is headed for Brexit, and fast.

Ever since the Brexit referendum in 2016, there have been two main arguments against going forward with Brexit. The first is that Brexit would have horrifying economic consequences, which is quite possibly true, but largely beside the point. The British people voted for it, and surely the British people have a right to lower economic growth, if they want it. I mean, 48% of them didn't, of course, but the same complaint could be lodged against nearly any modern election; there's almost always a sizable minority that bitterly opposes whatever the majority wants. If that's grounds for ignoring the 2016 referendum, then it's grounds for arguing that no government should ever do anything except periodically meet to declare National Puppies Are Cute Day.

Perhaps perceiving the troubling implications of this argument, most people ended up taking a related, but different tack: Voters were misled and confused, and we have an obligation to find out whether voters changed their minds before we do something irrevocable.

This, too, has a certain plausibility. Elections can be influenced by all sorts of ephemera, from weather to flu epidemics. And the Brexit referendum, in particular, was affected by some rather wild overpromising about the benefits, and underweighting of the costs, on the part of the Brexiteers. The past three years have given the lie to claims that Brexit would be simple, or yield a lot of savings that could be used to fund the National Health Service; it seems quite possible that some voters have changed their minds. And shouldn't today's voters count at least as much -- more, really -- than the voters of three years ago?

But at some point, you have to stop asking "What about now?" In 2015, Prime Minister David Cameron won a historic majority after promising to call a Brexit referendum. In 2016, Britons voted to leave. And since then, voters have had two chances to chuck the Tories out of office. Instead, Conservatives have gone through two new prime ministers, each more pro-Brexit than the last.

There is, of course, the problem of Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, whose unreconstructed radicalism and amiable attitude toward anti-Semites have made him a most unattractive candidate for prime minister. It seems fairly clear that if Labour had a more normal leader, Labour would already be in power. But then, one wouldn't call Johnson a precisely normal Tory leader either, and his party has presided over the most ludicrously incompetent British Parliament in living memory. So it's hard to argue that this is simply a Labour own-goal, especially since Labour is suffering hardest in areas that voted "Leave."

Elections are never perfect summations of the collective will of every citizen. Britain joined the E.U. based on a similarly imperfect vote, and if they'd decided to stay, the same people who dismissed the 2016 referendum would have been solemnly intoning "The people have spoken." The thing is, they'd have been right, too.

While elections can't render the popular will with perfect accuracy, they deliver something even more vital: democratic legitimacy. And whatever catastrophe you think the voters have chosen cannot be nearly as disastrous as the long-run effects of telling those voters that elections only have consequences when your side wins. This election has given Boris Johnson not only the right, and the power, but also the obligation to do as he promised voters and "Get on with it."

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Ivanka Trump claims her father's administration is 'pro-family.' That's rich.

By catherine rampell
Ivanka Trump claims her father's administration is 'pro-family.' That's rich.

THE MILLENNIAL VIEW

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT RELEASE)

(For Rampell clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By CATHERINE RAMPELL

WASHINGTON -- Huh. Irony isn't dead after all.

"Under [President Trump's] leadership, families have never had a brighter future," Ivanka Trump declared, astonishingly, during a White House summit Thursday on working families. "In every action he takes, the president is putting American families first."

Well, maybe it's irony. Or maybe it's her latest attempt to pinkwash her father's anti-family (and especially anti-child) agenda.

Given the expanding economy, for instance, you might assume that more American families had gained health insurance under Trump's tenure. Nope. Under this administration, the share of Americans who are uninsured has been rising.

Even more damning, 425,000 (BEG ITAL)children(END ITAL) lost their insurance in 2018.

In fact, the sharpest increase in the uninsured rate was among children whom Ivanka Trump claims the administration prioritizes most: those from low- and moderate-income families. Most are likely eligible for Medicaid or CHIP but are not enrolled.

A number of Trump policies likely contributed to these disgraceful trends. Among them is the new so-called public charge rule, which makes it harder for immigrants to qualify for green cards if they have used certain safety-net programs they're legally entitled to -- or if government officials believe they might (BEG ITAL)ever(END ITAL) use these programs.

The rule has been temporarily blocked by courts, but confusion and fear have ripped through immigrant and mixed-status families. Immigrant parents are pulling even their native-born, U.S.-citizen children out of benefit programs to be on the safe side.

The administration is, meanwhile, pursuing other legally dubious policies that kick poor families off Medicaid, including new work requirements. These policies are a solution in search of a problem, given that most Medicaid recipients already work. Onerous and confusing reporting requirements can cause employed beneficiaries to lose their insurance anyway, as Arkansas learned last year.

A federal court has already struck down such requirements in three states. And yet also on Thursday -- as Ivanka Trump was touting a commitment to struggling parents -- the administration announced it had approved an especially cruel version of this policy in South Carolina. The state will soon become the first in the nation to impose work requirements almost (BEG ITAL)exclusively(END ITAL) on poor parents.

Meanwhile, the administration is pursuing other policies that are shredding supports that struggling families rely on.

Having recently finalized one rule that will result in 700,000 Americans losing food stamps, the administration is pursuing two others that will kick an additional 3 million people off the rolls, based on estimates from the Urban Institute. Nearly 1 million children would lose their automatic eligibility for free school lunches as well.

There's a long list of other Trump actions egregiously unfriendly to families -- including, of course, the family separation policy that ripped some 5,400 children away from their parents, many of them for months. Today, we're merely sending asylum-seeking families to tent cities in Mexico, where children and their parents can remain together as long as they're willing to tolerate epidemics, frostbite, kidnapping and sexual assault.

Given this record, how can this administration claim with a straight face that it's pro-family?

In his remarks at Thursday's summit, the president emphasized ... job growth. Which is surely important, though employment under the first three years of Trump has grown at a slightly slower pace than under the final three years of President Barack Obama.

That's not the only case where the administration has questionably claimed credit for family-related policy achievements.

During a call a day before the summit, a White House aide boasted that Trump had "signed into law the largest ever increase for the Child Care and Development Block Grant." He neglected to mention that Trump signed that increase only after Democrats demanded it; in fact, his original presidential budget had instead proposed to (BEG ITAL)cut(END ITAL) the program. At the summit itself, Trump hailed the inclusion in the defense bill of a new paid-leave program for federal workers -- a concession also extracted by Democrats, in exchange for funding his "Space Force."

To the extent that this White House, at Ivanka Trump's urging, is more actively promoting nationwide parental leave programs, the bills in question are not truly paid-leave programs at all. Rather, they merely allow workers to take out (BEG ITAL)loans(END ITAL) to fund their leave -- loans that must eventually be repaid through cuts to either their future Social Security benefits or future child tax credits.

Thursday's summit may have provided a nice photo op for the president and his daughter. But whatever Ivanka Trump claims, this first family has yet to prove it's actually putting families first.

Catherine Rampell's email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Full House has no choice but to impeach Trump

By eugene robinson
Full House has no choice but to impeach Trump

EUGENE ROBINSON COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT RELEASE)

(For Robinson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By EUGENE ROBINSON

WASHINGTON -- You gotta do what you gotta do. The House Judiciary Committee had no choice but to vote to impeach President Trump, and the full House has no choice but to follow suit. Either we believe in democracy and the rule of law or we don't, simple as that.

The president's defenders are correct when they say that "abuse of power" and "obstruction of Congress" are not statutory crimes. They are, in fact, worse. The stripped-down impeachment articles against Trump go to the heart of his blatant misconduct, which poses a direct challenge to the Constitution. I know that sounds grandiose to describe the offenses of such a small man as Trump. But it is true.

One could make the case that many of our presidents have abused their power in one way or another. I believe the framers of the Constitution would be appalled, for example, that since World War II we have sent so many troops to fight and die in so many conflicts without a formal declaration of war by Congress. I believe they would be outraged that presidents can make so much law, unilaterally, by calling it regulation. But then again, maybe not. Perhaps Madison and Jefferson would approve of the way the presidency has evolved. We really have no way of knowing.

We do know, however, that the founders worried a president might corruptly misuse the powers of his office to keep himself in office. That is a principal reason the impeachment clause was written. And it is precisely what Trump tried to do.

Not just in one phone call but over a period of months, Trump tried to coerce a foreign government into fabricating a scandal that would tarnish former Vice President Joe Biden, the potential rival who most threatened Trump's reelection. Trump conditioned official acts -- release of nearly $400 million in military aid, along with a desperately sought White House meeting -- on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's compliance with his demands.

Incredibly, this was after the conclusion of a two-year investigation into whether Trump and his campaign had solicited the help of another foreign government, that of Russia, to win the 2016 election. The probe by former special counsel Robert Mueller proved that Trump welcomed and encouraged Russian aid, but not that he or his campaign participated in a conspiracy. Mueller did turn up reams of evidence, however, that Trump had obstructed justice in trying to shut the investigation down.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi adamantly refused to open an impeachment inquiry after the Mueller probe. "He's just not worth it," she said, meaning that holding Trump accountable for the crimes Mueller uncovered was not worth the trauma that impeachment would inevitably put the country through.

When Trump's Ukraine bribery scheme came to light, however, the opening of an impeachment process went instantly from impossible to inevitable. It was indeed bribery, by the way, both as I believe the founders understood the crime and as the current federal bribery statute defines it. But Pelosi and the House impeachment managers decided to charge Trump instead with abuse of power, because that is a more grievous injury to the Constitution. Trump was elected to be a public servant, and he is acting like an autocrat.

Trump and his defenders have made a lot of noise but have not even produced quasi-plausible Trumpian "alternative facts" to dispute the real ones. Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said we should all just "get over it." Unfortunately for Trump, the Constitution does not allow that option.

The Constitution gives the House the "sole" power of impeachment. Yet Trump, unlike prior presidents who faced impeachment inquiries, has brazenly ordered the White House and the rest of the executive branch to refuse to provide documents and witnesses the House has demanded. Hence the charge of obstruction of Congress, which is another grave offense.

The separation-of-powers framework ensures that the three coequal branches of our government will be engaged in a permanent struggle, preventing any one from obtaining primacy. But it does not allow Trump to avoid impeachment and removal from office simply by refusing to give the House access to the information it needs in order to decide whether to impeach. Any future president who committed "high crimes and misdemeanors" would surely do the same.

The Senate may fail to take the charges seriously, but House members will have done their duty. It is a constitutional imperative that Trump go down in history as one of just three presidents to be impeached.

Eugene Robinson's email address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Where is Matt Gaetz's humanity?

By dana milbank
Where is Matt Gaetz's humanity?

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT RELEASE)

(For Milbank clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By DANA MILBANK

WASHINGTON -- House Judiciary Committee members, before approving impeachment articles, debated points profound and trivial, relevant and extraneous, fair and phony. And then there was Matt Gaetz.

The Florida Republican thought he'd have some fun with Hunter Biden's drug and alcohol addiction.

His voice dripping with derision, young Gaetz, a leading defender of President Trump, read from a July New Yorker profile of Joe Biden's son in which Hunter Biden confessed his decades-long struggle with substance abuse.

After Hunter was involved in a car accident in 2016, the rental car company Hertz found "a crack pipe in the car and, on one of the consoles, a line of white-powder residue," Gaetz read. "Officers filed a narcotics-offense report listing items seized in the car, including a plastic bag containing a white powdery substance, a Secret Service business card, credit cards and Hunter Biden's driver's license."

"That is what we would call evidence," Gaetz exulted. "I don't want to make light of anybody's substance abuse issues," he added, doing just that, "but it's a little hard to believe that [Ukraine's] Burisma hired Hunter Biden to resolve their international disputes when he could not resolve his own dispute with Hertz rental car over leaving cocaine and a crack pipe in the car."

Keyboards began clicking. Some Democrats shook their heads in disbelief. Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee's jaw dropped. Was he really doing this?

Yes, Gaetz was. There really is no bottom.

Gaetz went on, mockingly, about how Hunter "asked a homeless man … where he could buy crack" and "returned to buy more crack a few times that week." Said Gaetz: "Again, I'm not … casting any judgment on any challenges someone goes through in their personal life" -- of course not! -- "but it is just hard to believe that this was the guy wandering through homeless encampments buying crack that was worth $86,000 a month to Burisma."

Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., responded with an oblique reminder about Gaetz's DUI arrest several years ago. "The pot calling the kettle black is not something that we should do," Johnson said to laughter from Democratic aides. If he knew of a colleague who had "been busted in a DUI," he said, "I wouldn't raise it."

Charges were dismissed against Gaetz, who, while exploiting Hunter Biden's honesty about his addiction, neglected to mention that charges were never filed against Biden.

Undeterred, Gaetz soon resumed his grotesque attack on Hunter, reading from his ex-wife's divorce filing about a "rare vintage of Scotch" that Biden received. Said Gaetz: "He was taking diamonds and Scotch from the Chinese!"

There are good people on both sides of the aisle, but in the quarter-century I've covered Washington, Gaetz is among the most vulgar I have ever encountered. He invited a Holocaust denier to be his State of the Union guest. He led the Republicans' storming of a secure hearing room, endangering government secrets. And now this.

Forget politics for a moment. Forget about impeachment. As a parent, as a person, I wonder: Where is Matt Gaetz's humanity?

I don't excuse Hunter Biden's greed, even if it isn't illegal. Joe Biden should have done more to dissuade his son from this sleaze. But to defend Trump in this way -- to exploit a man's addiction to discredit his worth, and to cause political damage to his father, who at the time was grieving the death of his other son the previous year -- is shockingly heartless.

Republicans on the committee, who last week howled when a witness made wordplay with Barron Trump's name, were conspicuously quiet about Gaetz's outrage.

There were serious and even high-minded moments Thursday, including constitutional arguments about past impeachments and a debate about whether a crime must be statutory to be impeachable.

But fair debate couldn't compete with the Gaetz effect. Though some Republicans engaged with Democrats, others hurled epithets: Farce! Travesty! Sham! Corrupt! Unfair! Despicable! Railroad job! Rubber stamp!

Gaetz, chin jutting out, at one point jumping to his feet in anger, added his own: "Democrat drive-by!" "Alligator tears!" "Clutching pearls!" "Total joke!"

He didn't care a jot for truth. "They have no evidence that the Ukrainians ever knew that this aid was withheld," he said, ignoring two Pentagon emails documenting just that.

He taunted Democrats, threatened revenge and, incredibly, complained that Democrats had attacked Trump's family.

"Hunter Biden is corrupt," he alleged. "That totally exculpates the president."

No, it doesn't. Exploiting this man's addiction shows only that Gaetz has lost his soul.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Impeachment is part of a troubling global trend

By fareed zakaria
Impeachment is part of a troubling global trend

FAREED ZAKARIA COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, Dec. 13, 2019, and thereafter.)

(For Zakaria clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By FAREED ZAKARIA

MUMBAI, India -- At first glance, the impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump might seem to be a specifically and narrowly American matter. But if you look around the world, you see that it is part of a deeply worrying global trend. In country after country, we are witnessing an unprecedented wave of attacks on the constitutions, institutions, norms and values that have given democracy strength and meaning.

Consider what has been happening just this week around the world as Congress debated charges against President Trump. In India, the world's largest democracy, the ruling party passed an unprecedented citizenship bill that privileges certain religions over others, namely Islam, a move that has been widely criticized by human rights groups and described by one Indian intellectual as "a giant step to officially convert a constitutional democracy into a[n] unconstitutional ethnocracy."

This follows on the heels of an initiative by the same Hindu nationalist movement in one Indian state, seemingly aimed at Muslims, that stripped 2 million residents of citizenship on the grounds that they didn't have sufficient documentary proof -- in a country where most people have few written records. The government has begun building prisons in which to incarcerate these dispossessed people.

Israel, which boasts of being a stable democracy in a sea of dictatorships, appears paralyzed and polarized as it heads into its third election in a year. More disturbing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his party have launched an extraordinarily vicious attack on the Israeli justice system, which they claim has been plotting against him. In fact, Netanyahu faces indictment for bribery, fraud and breach of trust because the attorney general, who is from Netanyahu's party and was chosen by Netanyahu, was following existing laws and procedures. Yet the prime minister and his followers accuse prosecutors and police of engineering an "attempted coup" against him.

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has spoken openly about building an "illiberal democracy," has pushed for laws to make it harder for opposition lawmakers to band together and to protest legislation. He has also moved to curtail the power of local governments after his party suffered a severe setback in municipal elections.

At the International Court of Justice, nearly 30 years after she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as a pro-democracy dissident, Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi staunchly defended her government against charges of genocide against its Muslim minority, the Rohingya. In 2017, a military crackdown against the Rohingya led 700,000 of them to flee for their lives into bordering Bangladesh. United Nations investigators found evidence of mass murder, gang rape and arson, with "genocidal intent." The U.S. has since slapped sanctions on several of Myanmar's senior military leaders.

And this is all just in this week! If you broaden the lens, we are living through what Stanford's Larry Diamond has called a "democratic recession." Except it might be turning into a depression. For 13 consecutive years now, the international human rights watchdog group Freedom House has registered a decline in global freedom -- fair elections, free press, individual and minority rights, etc. Freedom House has long monitored democracy in far-flung places, so one of its key findings in 2018 was unusual: "The United States retreated from its traditional role as both a champion and an exemplar of democracy amid an accelerating decline in American political rights and civil liberties."

This is the context in which to consider America's impeachment crisis. The facts of the case are blindingly clear. Trump pressured the new Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens, as described in sworn testimony by 17 witnesses, many of them sitting senior government officials, with each person's account confirming the others' -- and emails, texts and the call transcript further documenting it all. The Republicans' defense is that this elaborate campaign to help Trump's reelection was actually a big misunderstanding. Trump had never asked for it; these officials, working feverishly for months across continents, were all simultaneously deluded. Call it the Walter Mitty defense.

In fact, the real defense is offense. This week the president called members of the FBI "scum" and Attorney General William Barr dismissed the conclusions of the Justice Department's own inspector general. The president and his followers now routinely attack the Foreign Service, intelligence agencies and the Justice Department. The White House has refused to honor congressional subpoenas or document requests to an extent unprecedented in American history.

Across the democratic world, the institutions of liberty and law are under attack. If they give way, the fraying democratic fabric of our societies will ultimately tear apart.

Fareed Zakaria's email address is fareed.zakaria.gps@turner.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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