No apologies: McConnell says Barrett a ‘huge success for the country’

Mitch McConnell isn’t sorry about anything. In fact, he’s happy how it all turned out.

A day after Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice — after a confirmation process that ended in a bitter, party-line vote just a week before Election Day — McConnell hailed the move as a “huge success for the country.”

The Barrett vote marks the capstone of the majority leader’s alliance with President Donald Trump, a relationship that plays out almost entirely in private yet has altered the third branch of the federal government in a way that will take years, maybe decades, to fully assess. It’s the third Supreme Court justice and 220th judicial confirmation overall that McConnell has shepherded through the Senate under Trump, the most since Jimmy Carter’s presidency.

Now Trump’s sinking approval ratings may bring down McConnell’s Senate majority. The Kentucky Republican himself called it a “50-50” proposition whether the GOP would hang on at this point, though forecasters have begun giving the edge to Democrats.

But McConnell argued Barrett’s confirmation would deliver for Republicans — in the current battle for the Senate and over the long-run. Even more, he argued, than a high-profile piece of legislation.

“Permanency depends on the next election. So that’s the way legislation goes," McConnell said in a 15-minute interview Tuesday. "But in judicial appointments you can have a longer-lasting positive impact.”

McConnell has dismissed Democratic complaints that the vacancy left by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg should’ve been left open until next year, or threats of retaliation through “court-packing” if Democrats win the White House and Senate on Nov. 3. He said on Monday night that “every high school student in America learns about Franklin Roosevelt’s unprincipled assault on judicial independence,” and warned Democrats not to repeat it.

But he insisted Tuesday that the hyper-partisanship surrounding Supreme Court nominations boosted Senate Republicans during the last two election cycles and is doing so again this year as McConnell looks to defend his 53-seat majority.

“In terms of the politics of it, I think it was helpful for us in 2016 and 2018, and it is clearly, I think, a plus in 2020 as well. So: good for the country and good for us politically as well,” McConnell concluded.

McConnell also referred to bipartisan negotiations on the latest Covid relief bill in the past tense, declined to discuss whether he could work with a potential President Joe Biden and refused for the millionth time to say whether Trump should change his conduct, in this case if the president pulls off an upset win for a second term.

“I’m not going to evaluate that sort of thing. You know I haven’t done that in four years and I’m not going to start now,” McConnell said.

The deliberative McConnell and erratic Trump could hardly be more different in personal style or temperament. But the president and the Republican leader worked extraordinarily closely to first nominate Barrett and then confirm her. The night Ginsburg died, the two connected by telephone and McConnell told Trump to have a nominee he could move quickly, according to White House officials and a GOP aide.

“This is what Mitch was made for: filling the Supreme Court seats,” Trump said on the call. McConnell was more circumspect in his response: “This will be the hardest fight of my life. We have to play this perfectly.”

In the end, they cemented a long-term conservative Supreme Court majority eight days before the election, while only losing a single Republican vote. From Trump’s announcement of Barrett to her Senate approval, the entire process took just one month, a stunningly fast turnaround.

But as GOP celebrations over Barrett continue, McConnell is looking toward his next challenge. He plans to run for Republican leader again in a few weeks — either in the majority or minority — provided he wins re-election to a sixth term next week.

The 78-year-old McConnell dismissed questions about his health. He said “of course” he’ll serve the full six years if re-elected.

But McConnell, the longest-serving senator in Kentucky history and longest-serving GOP leader, didn’t want to engage on how he will be viewed by history or how he would rate himself among the long line of Senate leaders.

“Look, I think my record speaks for itself,” McConnell said. “The judicial part in particular is of great consequence, and I think you all are capable of comparing that to previous majority leaders.”

Democrats know how they feel about McConnell, and it isn’t good. The party is furious that McConnell blocked Merrick Garland’s nomination for the high court in 2016 while fast tracking Barrett through now, even as tens of millions of Americans have already voted.

“He’s destroyed the orderly process of selecting judicial nominees,” Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, said of McConnell. “The worst part is he’s shaken the trust that members of the Senate had for one another and the mutual respect that makes this place work.”

Democrats declined to provide Barrett even a single ‘yes’ vote, the first time in 150 years the minority party completely snubbed a Supreme Court nominee.

“I might have voted for Amy Coney Barrett as far as circuit judge, but I would’ve liked to have a little more time on this for a deep dive,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), the most conservative Democrat. “Look, there’s not a judicial crisis. There’s still five conservatives to three progressives. What are they afraid of that they need insurance? The election and the Affordable Care Act.”

Some Senate Democrats and party activists are openly calling for expanding the Supreme Court if they control Washington in order to dilute the 6-3 conservative majority that McConnell has now helped enshrine. Liberals fear the coming Supreme Court will strike down an ambitious Biden agenda, just as the high court targeted major pieces of Roosevelt’s New Deal.

McConnell, however, uses those threats to animate his party’s defense of the Senate majority. Republicans have followed his lead, using the left’s talk of changes to the court as their case for being a firewall against a Biden presidency.

It’s just the latest example of the GOP rank-and-file embracing McConnell’s approach to politics. McConnell’s tight lips on Trump’s tweets and other controversies stand in stark contrast to former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), whose tiffs with Trump helped lead to an early end to the Wisconsin Republican’s career. These days, all but the chattiest Republicans ignore questions about Trump’s conduct.

In the Trump era, McConnell has guided the GOP through multiple government shutdowns, a presidential impeachment, the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing U.S. economic slowdown. And while Trump may cost Senate Republicans their six-year old majority, McConnell’s colleagues aren’t blaming his handling of the president for it. They don't complain about his sometimes compulsive focus on approving judicial nominees no matter what else was happening, either.

“He set a course to confirm justices and judges and he will have done it,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a close McConnell ally who is retiring this year. “And history will judge whether it was the right thing to do. I think it was. And it will surely be the first thing in the history book about him.”

“Judges are the Super Bowl,” added Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). “And he’s been winning. So I think it will reflect well on him as someone who can persuade and use power effectively for something that many of us believe in.”

If McConnell can somehow prop up his majority this cycle, it will only strengthen his hand in the GOP. But McConnell acknowledges “the election could go either way” and he could end up as minority leader, where he started nearly 14 years ago.

Under President Barack Obama, McConnell deployed a hard-line strategy of opposition, aimed at casting Democrats as feckless and unable to govern. Would he deploy those same tactics if Biden is president in January? Like usual, McConnell’s not giving anything away.

“That’s a good thing to discuss the day after the election,” he said.

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Meet the senators who will be in charge if Dems win the Senate

If Democrats win control of the Senate in November, the new committee chairs will include a senator tried on federal corruption charges, two octogenarians, a democratic socialist and a former tech industry executive, among others.

Democrats have their best shot at reclaiming the Senate majority since being ousted in 2014. With several GOP incumbents in danger of losing their seats — many of them outraised by their Democratic opponents and lagging in the polls — the makeup of a Democrat-led Senate is coming into focus.

In particular, the senators poised to take over committee gavels are mapping out an ambitious agenda. They’re clear-eyed about what it will take not only for Democrats to gain a net of at least three seats, but also to have a President Joe Biden to work with, rather than another four years of Donald Trump.

Potential committee chairs include 79-year-old Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at Budget; 80-year-old Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) at Appropriations; 87-year-old Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) at Judiciary; Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) at Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; Mark Warner (D-Va.) at Intelligence; and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) at Foreign Relations.

The disparate group shows how seniority pays off in the Senate, where if you last long enough, you can end up with a gavel.

Democrats will tackle a wide array of issues if they control the chamber come January. For starters, they are expected to begin rolling back many of the Trump administration’s actions — on everything from climate change to immigration, health care and taxes. And Democrats, likely with a fellow party member in the Oval Office, would push their own progressive agenda, including oversight of tech giants, infrastructure, energy and environmental programs.

Here’s who would have critical roles in a Democratic-controlled Senate.

Robert Menendez

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., gives his opening statement on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015.

Often an antagonist of the progressive left when it comes to foreign policy, Menendez would reclaim the Foreign Relations Committee’s gavel, which he held from 2013-15. The New Jersey Democrat was acquitted on federal corruption charges two years ago, and he has challenged the Trump administration on an array of national security crises that have arisen over the past four years, including the president’s decision to pull U.S. forces out of northern Syria.

In an interview, Menendez said he wants to “restore the centrality of the committee and its importance in foreign policy” — the panel has largely taken a back seat in recent years — and will prioritize a “rebuilding” of the State Department, which has seen its budget reduced.

Ron Wyden

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., pauses while speaking on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.

In a Democratic Senate, the Oregon senator would take the reins of the Finance Committee, a powerful panel that had a critical role in shepherding the GOP tax cuts through the chamber. Under a President Biden, Democrats would roll back many of those tax cuts— and Wyden will play a pivotal role in making that happen.

Wyden said in an interview that he has discussed the subject with Biden’s team. He also wants to focus on pandemic relief, which remains stalled.

“We’re going to make sure that the lesson of the Great Recession is learned — you don’t take your foot off the gas in the middle of an economic recovery,” Wyden said of his potential chairmanship.

Dianne Feinstein

Sen. Dianne Feinstein listens as Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett testifies on Capitol Hill on October 14, 2020.

Whether Feinstein is chair of the Judiciary Committee in the 117th Congress is still an open question, although it seems unlikely at this point after her performance during the past several weeks.

The California Democrat infuriated progressive outside groups during the panel’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett for being civil and deferential to the nominee and Republicans when the left — furious over Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s rush to fill the seat before Election Day — wanted the exact opposite. There remains speculation about whether Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will replace Feinstein atop the committee, or whether she will step down of her own volition. Feinstein’s retirement is another possibility. Neither Feinstein nor her office would comment about her future on the panel.

If Feinstein does leave, Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is next in line, although the Democratic Caucus may prevent him from serving in leadership and as a committee chair simultaneously. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, (D-R.I.), a former U.S. attorney, is third in line.

Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) delivers an address on threats to American democracy at George Washington University on September 24, 2020.

This is a fascinating scenario. The most liberal senator and former White House hopeful, a lawmaker who has long espoused the dramatic expansion of the federal government’s role in average Americans’ lives, is set to take over the Budget Committee gavel. Yet the federal deficit topped $3 trillion this year and is the largest since World War II, and the U.S. economy remains in tatters due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sanders wants to reshape the focus of the Budget panel. “We’d create a budget that works for working families, and not the billionaire class,” Sanders said in a brief interview when asked about his agenda if he took over as chair. And if Schumer and the Democrats don’t get rid of the filibuster, Sanders’ committee would be involved in crafting reconciliation bills, allowing a potential Biden administration to push tax and spending bills through the Senate on a simple-majority vote.

However, if Biden wins, Sanders might not be in the Senate for long. POLITICO reported that Sanders has expressed interest in becoming Labor secretary in a possible Biden administration. But that’s far from certain, especially because Vermont’s Republican governor, Phil Scott, would be able to appoint a temporary replacement to Sanders’ seat.

Mark Warner

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) returns to the Senate floor following a recess in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on January 30, 2020.

As vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Warner has maintained strong relationships across the aisle with the previous chair, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and the current acting chair, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Even as the Intelligence Committee has been the epicenter of several Trump-related controversies over the past four years — most notably stemming from Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — Warner has avoided the partisan jabs that have defined the panel’s counterpart across the Capitol, the House Intelligence Committee.

If he becomes chair, the Virginia Democrat will play a critical role in shepherding national security nominees through the Senate — including a director of national intelligence and CIA director — who are not loyal to a political party or a president.

Maria Cantwell

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) speaks at a hearing examining safety certification of jetliners on June 17, 2020 in Washington, DC.

The former tech industry executive, now in her fourth term, is in line to take over the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee if Democrats are victorious. Cantwell, of Washington state, is cautious about efforts to rein in Big Tech, or break up Google, Amazon or Facebook, and she wants to hear more on antitrust concerns surrounding the tech giants.

“I don’t care who’s in charge next time, I’m going to be talking about how we realize that we’re in an information age and we prepare for the future,” Cantwell said in an interview. “We have a president that basically is ignoring the fact, just like along with the pandemic, instead of realizing we’re in a global economy and an information age and we need to make some adjustments to make sure there are rules in the marketplace and that you invest in job training and education and disruption techniques — smoothing out disruptions.”

Cantwell added: “But I’m a believer we live in this age, not that you can deny it or put your head in the sand. So I don’t care who’s in charge, we’re going to focus on that.”

Cantwell and Commerce Democrats are releasing a report soon analyzing the impact the tech giants have had on local journalism. Hundreds of local and regional newspapers have disappeared as ad revenue has dried up, while Google and Facebook dominate the online ad market. This issue has become a major concern for those worried that the death of local papers is a threat to democracy.

Sherrod Brown

Sen. Sherrod Brown leaves the Senate floor during the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on January 27, 2020.

Brown is an old-school blue-collar Democrat who has spent most of his life in public office. But it’s clear the financial services industry may not love Brown as chair of the Banking panel. In 2014, when it looked like the Ohio Democrat may become chair, industry officials called it “frightening.” Six years later, it may be just as scary to them, although progressive Democrats would love it.

Brown, who has made a focus of his career pushing for more affordable housing for the middle class, has called for dramatically ramping up rental assistance during the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. And he’s been outspoken on efforts by the Trump administration to weaken fair housing protections. Look for Brown to push both issues if he gets the gavel.

“First thing: We do a major emergency rental assistance. I mean it’s all about housing. The word housing has essentially been left out of that committee the last three or four years. So it’s all about that,” he said.

Brown clashed with Banking Committee Chair Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and moderate Banking Committee Democrats in 2018 over efforts to weaken Dodd-Frank, the landmark financial regulatory bill. Brown lost that fight, but he won’t lose many more as chair.

Patrick Leahy

Sen. Patrick Leahy speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on August 5, 2020.

Another old-school politician, Leahy has been serving in the Senate since 1975. If Democrats retake the majority, Leahy would become yet again the Senate’s president pro tempore — the senior-most member of the majority party, a position that puts him third in line to the presidency behind the speaker of the House and vice president.

Perhaps most important, though, Leahy would become chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. He and his counterpart, fellow octogenarian Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), have a productive working relationship and have shown that they can cut bipartisan deals together.

Leahy’s ascension to the helm of the Appropriations panel also underscores the role of seniority in the Senate. With Leahy atop Appropriations and Sanders chairing Budget, a small state like Vermont would have an outsize impact on federal spending, and it would almost certainly guarantee additional funds for the state.

Patty Murray

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 25:  U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) speaks as Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) listens during a news briefing after the weekly Senate Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol February 25, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Senate Democrats held the weekly luncheon to discuss Democratic agenda.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Murray, a member of Senate Democratic leadership, would take control of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the principal health care panel in the Senate. With the issue dominating recent elections — including this year’s cycle — the Washington state Democrat would be the face of the party’s efforts to protect and expand on the Affordable Care Act, which has come under assault from the Trump administration.

If Biden wins the White House, the Justice Department will likely drop its effort to invalidate the 2010 law in court, and Biden will work with Senate Democrats to develop a plan that vastly expands Obamacare, including the likely addition of a public option.

Gary Peters

Sen. Gary Peters speaks during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on Thursday, September 24, 2020.

Facing his own reelection fight, the Michigan Democrat’s ascension to the chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is not yet certain. But Peters’ goals for the committee, if he becomes chair, are simple: restore bipartisanship.

The committee, the Senate’s chief bipartisan oversight body, has devolved into chaos and distrust over Chair Ron Johnson’s (R-Wis.) efforts to investigate Trump’s political enemies, including the Biden family and former top Obama administration officials.

Peters tends to lay low in the Senate and tout his bipartisan credentials, but he has been forced to take on a role of pushing back against Johnson’s investigations, which he says are politically motivated and intended to boost Trump’s prospects in the election.

“I take great pride in finding ways to work in a bipartisan way,” Peters said in a brief interview. “And the committee has traditionally always worked that way.”

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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Lt. Col. Vindman writing memoir, ‘Here, Right Matters’

NEW YORK (AP) - Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the national security aide who offered key testimony during the impeachment hearings of President Donald Trump and later accused the president of running a “campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation," has a book deal.

Harper announced Monday that Vindman's “Here, ...

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Brad Pitt Narrates Pro-Biden Ad Portraying Him As Bipartisan Unifier

Hollywood star Brad Pitt has thrown his support firmly behind Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as he narrated an add for him that aired during the World Series on Saturday night.

Pitt Narrates Biden Ad

Though Biden is known to be a firm Democrat, Pitt tried to portray him as a bipartisan unifier in the ad.

“America is a place for everyone,” Brad Pitt said in the minute-long commercial. “Those who chose this country. Those who fought for it. Some Republicans. Some Democrats. And most, just somewhere in between. All looking for the same thing, someone who understands their hopes, their dreams, their pain, to listen.”

“To bring people together. To get up every day and work make life better for families like yours,” the Twelve Monkeys star added. “To look you in the eye, treat you with respect, and tell you the truth. To work just as hard for those who voted for him as those who didn’t. To be a president for all Americans.”

RELATED: Biden Confuses Trump With President Bush, Says Country Can’t Afford ‘Four More Years Of George’

Pitt Has Gotten Political Before

This is not the first time that Pitt has gotten political. While accepting his Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his work in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood earlier this year, Pitt shamelessly used his speech to rant about the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

After taking the stage to accept his award, Pitt attacked the Senate for not calling on former National Security adviser John Bolton as a witness.

“They told me I only have 45 seconds up here, which is 45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week,” Pitt said. “I’m thinking maybe Quentin does a movie about it. In the end, the adults do the right thing.”

RELATED: Brad Pitt’s Anti-Trump Oscar Speech: 45 Seconds is ‘More Than the Senate Gave John Bolton’

Despite Pitt’s speech, Trump was later acquitted by the Senate on all charges.

As a Hollywood star who has appeared in a wide variety of movies over the years, Pitt has fans on all sides of the political spectrum. It’s a shame that he feels the need to alienate millions of them by going political and blatantly catering to the liberal voting base.

This piece was written by PopZette Staff on October 26, 2020. It originally appeared in LifeZette and is used by permission.

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The post Brad Pitt Narrates Pro-Biden Ad Portraying Him As Bipartisan Unifier appeared first on The Political Insider.

AOC Again Vows To Push Biden Further Left, Says Dems Need To Win Senate To Avoid Being Bipartisan

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) again vowed to push Joe Biden further to the left should he win the election and added Democrats need to retake the Senate to avoid the burden of having to govern in a bipartisan fashion.

AOC, known as one of the more vociferous voices in the far-left element of the Democrat party, made the comments during an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper.

In the segment, the ‘Squad’ leader dismissed bipartisanship as little more than “Republican manipulation.”

She hinted that the 2020 election could be a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to have the White House, the Senate, and the House majorities Democratically-controlled.”

“We have an obligation to the American people to show what a Democratic administration can actually accomplish,” claimed Ocasio-Cortez.

She went on to suggest her party needs to demonstrate to the American people “that we can govern” and do so as “a memorable shift from just a flatline of this idea of bipartisanship.”

RELATED: Jake Tapper Rips Trump Over Comments About The Black Community, Van Jones Fires Back ‘He Doesn’t Get Enough Credit’

AOC Scoffs at the Idea of Governing in a Bipartisan Manner

So much for the notion of reaching across the aisle. But then, was there any doubt that the fringe elements in the Democrat party plan a full-on takeover should they be voted in?

This is, after all, the same group that forced Democrats into conducting the first partisan impeachment in the nation’s history.

Also of little surprise, but noteworthy for voters, is that AOC has again telegraphed to the entire nation that she and her band of merry progressives plan on pushing Biden as far left as they possibly can.

“Frankly, I think it would be a privilege and it would be a luxury for us to be talking about what we would lobby the next Democratic – and how we will push the next Democratic administration,” she said.

AOC suggested progressives are “the base of the Democratic Party” and she will play a role in pushing Biden to accept their agenda.

“Is my job to push the Democratic Party? Absolutely,” she added. “And that has been a part of my role since I have been elected.”

RELATED: Biden Vows To Provide Pathway to Citizenship For 11 Million Illegals – Tells America ‘We Owe Them’

AOC Will Push Biden Left, Can’t Say She’ll Definitively Back Pelosi For Speaker

Earlier this month, the Working Families Party and all four members of the ‘Squad’ unveiled an agenda designed to push Biden to the far-left should he win the presidency.

Known as the “People’s Charter,” the plan seeks universal health care, re-allocation of resources away from policing, canceling student debt, and advancing the tenets behind the Green New Deal.

AOC has previously expressed confidence that she can push Biden as far left as possible, implementing policies such as the Green New Deal which has a price tag in the trillions.

In the interview with Tapper, Ocasio-Cortez also seemed to be gearing up for a fight with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

When asked if she could commit to supporting Pelosi as Speaker again, she hedged.

“I believe that we have to see those races as they come, see what candidates are there. I am committed to making sure that we have the most progressive candidate there.” she replied.

“But, if Speaker Pelosi is that most progressive candidate, then I will be supporting her.”

Is AOC simply biding her time, ready for a takeover of the entire party should they sweep their way to victory?

The post AOC Again Vows To Push Biden Further Left, Says Dems Need To Win Senate To Avoid Being Bipartisan appeared first on The Political Insider.

Trump expected splashy Wall Street Journal coverage of Hunter Biden’s emails. He was disappointed

Rudy Giuliani’s ridiculous waterlogged laptop story wasn’t supposed to be the way the public learned about an alleged trove of Hunter Biden emails. It was supposed to come from a much more reputable Rupert Murdoch-owned publication. Not even Fox News, which passed. No, some ostensibly more reputable Trumpsters were trying to sell the email story—minus the laptop angle—to The Wall Street Journal. 

Eric Herschmann, the former Trump impeachment lawyer turned White House adviser, former deputy White House counsel Stefan Passantino, and a public relations person who’s buddies with Don Jr. met with WSJ reporter Michael Bender in early October, The New York Times’ Ben Smith reports. At that meeting, they handed over Hunter Biden emails—including some of the same ones Giuliani supposedly got from the laptop—and put his former business partner, Tony Bobulinski, on speaker phone to make allegations that Joe Biden had profited from Hunter’s corrupt use of the family name. That effort to sell the story ran into one big problem: The Wall Street Journal took its time investigating and decided there wasn’t a lot of there there.

While that investigation was ongoing, Giuliani got the New York Post to run his laptop story, which quickly came under question. (Questions like “Are you f’ing kidding me?” and “So Rudy’s basically a Russian asset now, right?)

But Donald Trump knew that The Wall Street Journal was supposedly going to be doing a story on the emails, and he was excited, telling aides that an “important piece” was coming in the paper. While “The editors didn’t like Trump’s insinuation that we were being teed up to do this hit job,” a reporter told Smith, the investigation into the emails continued. But it didn't go on Team Trump’s schedule, which called for a major, splashy article before last week’s debate. Instead, the eventual WSJ article came after Bobulinski went to the press himself, and Trump tried to make him an issue in the debate. The headline of the short article eventually published? “Hunter Biden’s Ex-Business Partner Alleges Father Knew About Venture.”

That’s not exactly what the White House lawyer and former White House lawyer were looking for—they wanted the New York Post insinuations laundered through the respectability of the WSJ. And of course the whole story is further discredited by having multiple overlapping sets of Hunter Biden emails being pushed around by different parts of Team Trump. The laptop story is dubious enough on its own—man from California delivers laptop to Delaware repair shop where blind Trump-supporting owner can’t identify him as Hunter Biden but figures it out from Biden-related sticker on the laptop, etc etc etc, improbability stacking upon improbability—but when you know that that wasn't the only set of supposed Hunter Biden emails, well, it really screams Russian influence campaign. And it screams Trump desperation for any game-changer in the campaign, however illegitimate.

Trump Had One Last Story to Sell. The Wall Street Journal Wouldn't Buy It.

Trump Had One Last Story to Sell. The Wall Street Journal Wouldn't Buy It.By early October, even people inside the White House believed President Donald Trump's reelection campaign needed a desperate rescue mission. So three men allied with the president gathered at a house in McLean, Virginia, to launch one.The host was Arthur Schwartz, a New York public relations man close to Trump's eldest son, Donald Jr. The guests were a White House lawyer, Eric Herschmann, and a former deputy White House counsel, Stefan Passantino, according to two people familiar with the meeting.Herschmann knew the subject matter they were there to discuss. He had represented Trump during the impeachment trial early this year, and he tried to deflect allegations against the president in part by pointing to Hunter Biden's work in Ukraine. More recently, he has been working on the White House payroll with a hazy portfolio, listed as "a senior adviser to the president," and remains close to Jared Kushner.The three had pinned their hopes for reelecting the president on a fourth guest, a straight-shooting Wall Street Journal White House reporter named Michael Bender. They delivered the goods to him there: a cache of emails detailing Hunter Biden's business activities, and, on speaker phone, a former business partner of Hunter Biden's named Tony Bobulinski. Bobulinski was willing to go on the record in The Journal with an explosive claim: that Joe Biden, the former vice president, had been aware of, and profited from, his son's activities. The Trump team left believing that The Journal would blow the thing open and their excitement was conveyed to the president.The Journal had seemed to be the perfect outlet for a story the Trump advisers believed could sink Biden's candidacy. Its small-c conservatism in reporting means the work of its news pages carries credibility across the industry. And its readership leans further right than other big news outlets. Its Washington bureau chief, Paul Beckett, recently remarked at a virtual gathering of Journal reporters and editors that while he knows that the paper often delivers unwelcome news to the many Trump supporters who read it, The Journal should protect its unique position of being trusted across the political spectrum, two people familiar with the remarks said.As the Trump team waited with excited anticipation for a Journal expose, the newspaper did its due diligence: Bender and Beckett handed the story off to a well-regarded China correspondent, James Areddy, and a Capitol Hill reporter who had followed the Hunter Biden story, Andrew Duehren. Areddy interviewed Bobulinski. They began drafting an article.Then things got messy. Without warning his notional allies, Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and now a lawyer for Trump, burst onto the scene with the tabloid version of the McLean crew's carefully laid plot. Giuliani delivered a cache of documents of questionable provenance -- but containing some of the same emails -- to The New York Post, a sister publication to The Journal in Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Giuliani had been working with the former Trump aide Steve Bannon, who also began leaking some of the emails to favored right-wing outlets. Giuliani's complicated claim that the emails came from a laptop Hunter Biden had abandoned, and his refusal to let some reporters examine the laptop, cast a pall over the story -- as did The Post's reporting, which alleged but could not prove that Joe Biden had been involved in his son's activities.While the Trump team was clearly jumpy, editors in The Journal's Washington bureau were wrestling with a central question: Could the documents, or Bobulinski, prove that Joe Biden was involved in his son's lobbying? Or was this yet another story of the younger Biden trading on his family's name -- a perfectly good theme, but not a new one or one that needed urgently to be revealed before the election.Trump and his allies expected the Journal story to appear Monday, Oct. 19, according to Bannon. That would be late in the campaign, but not too late -- and could shape that week's news cycle heading into the crucial final debate last Thursday. An "important piece" in The Journal would be coming soon, Trump told aides on a conference call that day.His comment was not appreciated inside The Journal."The editors didn't like Trump's insinuation that we were being teed up to do this hit job," a Journal reporter who wasn't directly involved in the story told me. But the reporters continued to work on the draft as the Thursday debate approached, indifferent to the White House's frantic timeline.Finally, Bobulinski got tired of waiting."He got spooked about whether they were going to do it or not," Bannon said.At 7:35 Wednesday evening, Bobulinski emailed an on-the-record, 684-word statement making his case to a range of news outlets. Breitbart News published it in full. He appeared the next day in Nashville, Tennessee, to attend the debate as Trump's surprise guest, and less than two hours before the debate was to begin, he read a six-minute statement to the press, detailing his allegations that the former vice president had involvement in his son's business dealings.When Trump stepped on stage, the president acted as though the details of the emails and the allegations were common knowledge. "You're the big man, I think. I don't know, maybe you're not," he told Biden at some point, a reference to an ambiguous sentence from the documents.As the debate ended, The Wall Street Journal published a brief item, just the stub of Areddy and Duehren's reporting. The core of it was that Bobulinski had failed to prove the central claim. "Corporate records reviewed by The Wall Street Journal show no role for Joe Biden," The Journal reported.Asked about The Journal's handling of the story, the editor-in-chief, Matt Murray, said the paper did not discuss its newsgathering. "Our rigorous and trusted journalism speaks for itself," Murray said in an emailed statement.And if you'd been watching the debate, but hadn't been obsessively watching Fox News or reading Breitbart, you would have had no idea what Trump was talking about. The story the Trump team hoped would upend the campaign was fading fast.The Gatekeepers ReturnThe McLean group's failed attempt to sway the election is partly just another story revealing the chaotic, threadbare quality of the Trump operation -- a far cry from the coordinated "disinformation" machinery feared by liberals.But it's also about a larger shift in the American media, one in which the gatekeepers appear to have returned after a long absence.It has been a disorienting couple of decades, after all. It all began when The Drudge Report, Gawker and the blogs started telling you what stodgy old newspapers and television networks wouldn't. Then social media brought floods of content pouring over the old barricades.By 2015, the old gatekeepers had entered a kind of crisis of confidence, believing they couldn't control the online news cycle any better than King Canute could control the tides. Television networks all but let Donald Trump take over as executive producer that summer and fall. In October 2016, Julian Assange and James Comey seemed to drive the news cycle more than the major news organizations. Many figures in old media and new bought into the idea that in the new world, readers would find the information they wanted to read -- and therefore, decisions by editors and producers, about whether to cover something and how much attention to give it, didn't mean much.But the past two weeks have proved the opposite: that the old gatekeepers, like The Journal, can still control the agenda. It turns out there is a big difference between WikiLeaks and establishment media coverage of WikiLeaks, a difference between a Trump tweet and an article about it, even between an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal suggesting Joe Biden had done bad things, and a news article that didn't reach that conclusion.Perhaps the most influential media document of the past four years is a chart by a co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, Yochai Benkler. The study showed that a dense new right-wing media sphere had emerged -- and that the mainstream news "revolved around the agenda that the right-wing media sphere set."Bannon had known this, too. He described his strategy as "anchor left, pivot right," and even as he ran Breitbart News, he worked to place attacks on Hillary Clinton in mainstream outlets. The validating power of those outlets was clear when The New York Times and Washington Post were given early access in the spring of 2015 to the book "Clinton Cash," an investigation of the Clinton family's blurring of business, philanthropic and political interests by writer Peter Schweizer.Schweizer is still around this cycle. But you won't find his work in mainstream outlets. He's over on Breitbart, with a couple of Hunter Biden stories this month.And the fact that Bobulinski emerged not in the pages of the widely respected Journal but in a statement to Breitbart was essentially Bannon's nightmare, and Benkler's fondest wish. And a broad array of mainstream outlets, unpersuaded that Hunter Biden's doings tie directly to the former vice president, have largely kept the story off their front pages, and confined to skeptical explanations of what Trump and his allies are claiming about his opponent."SO USA TODAY DIDN'T WANT TO RUN MY HUNTER BIDEN COLUMN THIS WEEK," conservative writer Glenn Reynolds complained Oct. 20, posting the article instead to his blog. Trump himself hit a wall when he tried to push the Hunter Biden narrative onto CBS News."This is '60 Minutes,' and we can't put on things we can't verify," Lesley Stahl told him. Trump then did more or less the same thing as Reynolds, posting a video of his side of the interview to his own blog, Facebook.The media's control over information, of course, is not as total as it used to be. The people who own printing presses and broadcast towers can't actually stop you from reading leaked emails or unproven theories about Joe Biden's knowledge of his son's business. But what Benkler's research showed was that the elite outlets' ability to set the agenda endured in spite of social media.We should have known it, of course. Many of our readers, screaming about headlines on Twitter, did. And Trump knew it all along -- one way to read his endless attacks on the establishment media is as an expression of obsession, a form of love. This week, you can hear howls of betrayal from people who have for years said the legacy media was both utterly biased and totally irrelevant."For years, we've respected and even revered the sanctified position of the free press," wrote Dana Loesch, a right-wing commentator not particularly known for her reverence of legacy media, expressing frustration that the Biden story was not getting attention. "Now that free press points its digital pen at your throat when you question their preferences."On the Other Side of the GateThere's something amusing -- even a bit flattering -- in such earnest protestations from a right-wing movement rooted in efforts to discredit the independent media. And this reassertion of control over information is what you've seen many journalists call for in recent years. At its best, it can also close the political landscape to a trendy new form of dirty tricks, as in France in 2017, where the media largely ignored a last-minute dump of hacked emails from President Emmanuel Macron's campaign just before a legally mandated blackout period.But I admit that I feel deep ambivalence about this revenge of the gatekeepers. I spent my career, before arriving at The Times in March, on the other side of the gate, lobbing information past it to a very online audience who I presumed had already seen the leak or the rumor, and seeing my job as helping to guide that audience through the thicket, not to close their eyes to it. "The media's new and unfamiliar job is to provide a framework for understanding the wild, unvetted, and incredibly intoxicating information that its audience will inevitably see -- not to ignore it," my colleague John Herrman (also now at The Times) and I wrote in 2013. In 2017, I made the decision to publish the unverified "Steele dossier," in part on the grounds that gatekeepers were looking at it and influenced by it, but keeping it from their audience.This fall, top media and tech executives were bracing to refight the last war -- a foreign-backed hack-and-leak operation like WikiLeaks seeking to influence the election's outcome. It was that hyper-vigilance that led Twitter to block links to The New York Post's article about Hunter Biden -- a frighteningly disproportionate response to a story that other news organizations were handling with care. The schemes of Herschmann, Passantino and Schwartz weren't exactly WikiLeaks. But the special nervousness that many outlets, including this one, feel about the provenance of the Hunter Biden emails is, in many ways, the legacy of the WikiLeaks experience.I'd prefer to put my faith in Murray and careful, professional journalists like him than in the social platforms' product managers and executives. And I hope Americans relieved that the gatekeepers are reasserting themselves will also pay attention to who gets that power, and how centralized it is, and root for new voices to correct and challenge them.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company


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Pelosi holds firm grip on power as Dems dream of a sweep

Nancy Pelosi may be the most powerful congressional leader in modern U.S. history.

In the 22 months since she’s returned to the speaker’s chair — an enormous achievement in itself — Pelosi has centralized power in an unprecedented way. It’s due not just to her own maneuvering, but to a variety of circumstances: a chaotic president, a paralyzed Senate, and a national health emergency that’s spurred the most serious economic crisis in decades.

For many Democrats, Pelosi is the face of the resistance to President Donald Trump. From clashes over government shutdowns to impeachment to yelling matches in the White House and publicly tearing up a copy of his State of the Union address, Pelosi has been Trump’s chief antagonist. There have been acrimonious relationships between presidents and House speakers before, but never one so public or so bitter. It’s been over a year since the two have spoken.

“My experience with the president is that he has, really, almost a historic lack of knowledge about the issues and the legislative process,” Pelosi told POLITICO in an interview on Friday. “He has no relationship, no affiliation with fact, data, truth or evidence. And he has a very small view of the future.”

Pelosi will no longer be the party’s leader if Biden wins the White House on Nov. 3, but her influence may only grow. If Democrats also win the Senate, the incoming president is expected to rely heavily on the Democratic agenda passed by the House that’s been blocked by Trump and Mitch McConnell during the last two years. On everything from health care to climate change to money in politics, the markers laid down by House Democrats may prove every bit as important as the policy goals Biden laid out during the campaign.

Yet Pelosi also faces questions about her own future. In order to win over a handful of skittish Democrats following the party’s landslide victory in the 2018 midterms, Pelosi committed to serving only two more terms as speaker. That would make the next Congress her last after 20 years in power, and this upcoming election her final appearance on the ballot, unless she goes back on her commitment.

“No, I don’t,” Pelosi said after a long pause, when asked if she wants to talk about her future beyond the next Congress or how long she wants to remain as speaker.

“Right now, it’s serving past the next couple of days,” added Pelosi, the first woman speaker. “Let’s see what happens in the election. I feel quite certain today, as I said earlier, that we’d win it all. But it isn’t today.”

During a CNN interview on Sunday, the California Democrat again affirmed her intentions to stay on as speaker: "Yes, I am. But let me also say we have to win the Senate."

Pelosi, 80, is expected to easily secure another term as speaker in January — very likely without even a challenge, according to interviews with a dozen House Democrats.

“I’ve been around a while, I don’t think anybody in our caucus, even in a drunken stupor, is thinking they could run against Nancy Pelosi and win the speakership,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.).

“Any departure by Nancy Pelosi will be because she wants to depart,” he added. “She is riding in that parade at the front. And the rest of the parade is following joyfully.”

In the last six months alone, Pelosi has almost single-handedly negotiated more than $3 trillion in pandemic aid bills on behalf of House Democrats, while many of her members aren’t even in Washington. Those bills have all passed through the chamber without hearings, and some even without roll call votes.

Lately, Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have spent months trying to hammer out another $1 trillion-dollar-plus stimulus package, with everyone else in Washington on the outside looking in. It’s an extraordinary position for any party leader and harkens back to Pelosi’s work with the Bush administration to rescue financial markets in 2008.

Pelosi has operated as the Democrats' lead spokesperson as well. Since late March, she has done nearly 160 TV interviews, plus another 20 appearances on Sunday talk shows. This doesn’t include print interviews, or the stakeouts she and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer held.

Pelosi also continues to be a fundraising juggernaut, having raised more money than any non-presidential candidate ever. Pelosi raised more than $193 million for the House Democratic campaign arm alone this cycle. Since 2002, Pelosi has raked in a stunning $961 million for Democrats, according to her office.

“I would agree with you that she is most certainly the strongest [speaker] in modern times, and could very well be ever,” said Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.). “I would say that I do think she’s the most consequential speaker ever.”

Pelosi’s rise to the speakership came at a time when the role of the office changed and became much more visible nationally. Sam Rayburn, the legendary Texas Democrat, was speaker for far longer, but he worked more in the background than Pelosi does. Tip O'Neill, the iconic Massachusetts Democrat, clashed furiously with President Ronald Reagan, although he also had to contend with powerful committee chairs. In the Pelosi era — thanks in part to changes instituted under Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) — there is no other power base within the body.

As for how long Pelosi should serve, Clyburn — the No. 3 Democrat and a fellow octogenarian — believes the California Democrat can stay put as long as she wants. Pelosi, Clyburn and the 81-year-old House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer have held the top three spots in the Democratic Caucus for the last 14 years, to some frustration among the next generation of ambitious lawmakers.

“I hope it’s not her last [term],” Clyburn said. “But if it were up to me, I think Biden is going to need her. … My preference is keep the team together.”

For Republicans, Pelosi is the epitome of a powerful leader run amok. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other GOP lawmakers sued after Pelosi instituted proxy voting on the House floor earlier this year in response to the pandemic, calling it a "brazen violation of the Constitution," although a federal judge later threw the case out.

“Time and again during this crisis, the Speaker has overplayed her hand and wasted precious time to help Americans," McCarthy said in a statement. "This failure isn’t a new paradigm. Her career is marked by absolutism. If the media ever questions it, she lashes out. If she senses a threat from her own members, she keeps them home. The Speaker is consumed by internal power plays at the expense of getting things done."

Even with all of her success, some Democrats have quietly begun considering a post-Pelosi era. It’s a topic that no lawmaker will discuss publicly for fear of backlash from the speaker — the oldest person to hold the office — though such discussions continue quietly inside a caucus where roughly 80 percent of Democrats have only served under Pelosi’s leadership.

Nearly a dozen Democrats are clamoring for one of their caucus’ few open leadership posts in January, a perch that many hope could position them for bigger roles in case of a potential exodus by the troika of Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn in the next cycle.

“I think people are starting to think what’s the team going to look like two or four years from now,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who is running to be assistant speaker, the No. 4 spot in leadership.

“I think people are beginning to think who will be the next generation of leaders in the Democratic Caucus,” he said. “I think that’s kind of natural.”

There are still Pelosi critics, including roughly a dozen Democrats who opposed her second tour as speaker in 2018. But it’s not even clear how many would vote against her now.

“In the last go around, there was some opposition,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), a longtime Pelosi friend. “There was a lot of talking, but there wasn’t any candidate.”

Eshoo said it’s possible that some of the incoming Democrats from swing districts may stage some sort of opposition to Pelosi next Congress. But Eshoo said it would not weaken her ability to govern.

“Every single one of them will have received her considerable support, monetarily and otherwise,” Eshoo said. “She always says, ‘Just win.’”

“Our confidence in the speaker is high,” added Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), another member of Pelosi’s leadership team seeking a higher post next year.

While Pelosi is firmly ensconced in the speaker's chair, there is speculation about possible successors whenever she does leave. The list includes Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), the Democratic Caucus chair; Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a major player in Trump's impeachment; and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), whose national profile rose during the police reform debate, among others.

Some long-serving Democrats say Pelosi’s second run as speaker has been markedly different than her first, when Pelosi and former President Barack Obama muscled through massive legislation — from Obamacare to a cap-and-trade climate bill — that some believe spurred the tea party backlash and cost them the House in 2010.

Long-time moderate Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) recalls delivering a message to a Pelosi staffer shortly after Democrats recaptured the House in 2006. “We gotta be careful that we don't overreach,” he remembers saying. Four years later, Republicans won back the chamber.

Cuellar thinks that lesson will carry over to a potential Biden administration.

“[Pelosi] is going to try to get as much done as she can, but I think she understands the factor of overreach. I think she learned that in her first term.”

Pelosi argues it wasn’t her agenda that cost Democrats in the 2010 midterms, noting that her party suffered much the same way Republicans did in 2006 and 2018 under a president of the same party.

“That is just how it has gone. Doesn’t mean it will continue to go that way,” Pelosi said, dismissing concerns that an ambitious Democratic program could, once again, fuel a GOP wave that costs them the House in two years.

Pelosi added that she is already looking to cushion any potential blowback in the midterms by bolstering Democratic ranks now, though she wouldn’t divulge how many seats she expects to pick up next week.

“I’m already getting ready for that election,” Pelosi said of the 2022 midterms, just days before the 2020 race. “My goal this year was to win two elections in one day.”

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