Representative Elijah Cummings Dies Unexpectedly

Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Elijah Cummings (D., Md.) in Washington, D.C., February 27, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: An already full news environment is greeted by two more shocks, one tragic, one hopeful. Representative Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, died this morning at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore from “longstanding health problems.” Meanwhile, over in the United Kingdom, the British government and the European Union think they’ve worked out a Brexit deal. Elsewhere, Trump declares the PKK to be worse terrorists than ISIS, and the Democrats contend the impeachment process can be secret and fast.

RIP, Elijah Cummings

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How many Americans even knew that Elijah Cummings was sick? According to the Baltimore Sun, “Cummings had not participated in a roll call vote since Sept. 11. His office said recently that he had undergone a medical procedure, but the seriousness of his condition had not been known. This morning’s statement says Cummings died from ‘complications concerning longstanding health challenges.’” He had heart surgery in 2017, a transarterial aortic valve replacement. He was only 68 years old. Requiescat in pace.

The vice chair of the House Oversight Committee is Katie Hill, a freshman Democrat from northern Los Angeles.

Under Maryland law, sometime in the next ten days, Governor Larry Hogan will set the dates for a special primary election and a special general election shall be held to fill the vacancy, a Tuesday no sooner than 36 days from now. Cummings’ district — which you may recall President Trump tweeting about earlier this year — scores a D+24 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index.

The House of Representatives currently has three vacancies. Cummings just passed away, Sean Duffy of Wisconsin resigned September 23 after learning that his wife was about to give birth to a daughter with a serious heart condition, and Chris Collins of New York resigned shortly before pleading guilty to insider trading and lying to the FBI.

We Might Just Have a Brexit After All!

Wasn’t it last month or so that everyone was writing the oh-so-early political obituary of Prime Minister Boris Johnson? This morning he announced a new deal with the EU had been reached. “We will leave the EU’s Customs Union as one United Kingdom and be able to strike trade deals all around the world.”

The big sticking point had been Northern Ireland, and the gist is that Northern Ireland will remain aligned to a limited set of EU rules, remain in the United Kingdom’s customs territory but will be an entry point for British goods into the EU market, the sales tax will remain in place, and Northern Ireland will be able to decide whether to continue applying union rules every four years.

That doesn’t sound so hard. But the deal still needs to get passed through the British Parliament, and to the surprise of no one, Jeremy Corbyn immediately denounced the deal and announced the Labour Party’s opposition. The expectation is that the parliament vote will be extremely close.

‘More of a Terrorist Threat Than ISIS’ Is a Really, Really High Bar to Clear, Mr. President

One of the frustrating aspects of our era is how frequently the wrongdoing of one figure is used as a defensive shield to excuse the wrongdoing of another figure. I don’t like Jared Kushner being handed extremely important foreign policy duties just because he’s the president’s son-in-law. But that doesn’t erase the problems relating to Hunter Biden. I see the overly wasteful spending on fancy office furniture by Trump’s cabinet and the return of trillion-dollar-per-year deficits. That doesn’t make it okay for the Democrats to propose a Medicaid for All plan that would cost another $34 trillion over ten years — a 60 percent increase in all federal spending, all by itself.

I fume over grifter PACs on the right that promise a lot, mislead donors, and pocket the money. The corrupt figures on the Right don’t make the incestuous progressive aristocracy in government, media, academia, publishing, Hollywood, or other elite institutions any less insufferable.

Problems with Option A do not mean that Option B is correct, and vice versa.

Yesterday, the president did this sort of thing again, declaring, “the P.K.K., which is a part of the Kurds, as you know, is probably worse at terror and more of a terrorist threat in many ways than ISIS.” From the perspective of U.S. interests, this is bonkers. But this doesn’t mean the PKK isn’t that bad. They’re pretty darn bad. “Not quite as dangerous and threatening as ISIS” is a really low bar to clear.

I knew Trump was a nationalist, I just didn’t realize he was a Turkish nationalist.

Sometimes you get stuck with the Iraq-Iraq War, Aliens vs. Predator, or a championship between your two least favorite teams. But we should reject these Kobayashi Marus whenever possible. In politics and in policy, our goal should be to get as close to the right answer as possible, not to settle for being marginally less wrong than the alternative.

This is where we are on Thursday morning: Trump is sounding unhinged, the Democratic effort to impeach him is progressing in an unfair manner, and a conservative who finds Trump infuriating on a daily basis can still find the Democratic alternatives even less appealing. A sane ideologue working for policies that I think will hurt the country is not an improvement.

‘Don’t Be a Tough Guy! Don’t Be a Fool! I Will Call You Later.’

You could gaze in wonder and horror at Trump’s letter to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan full of schoolyard taunts, declaring, “History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way. It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” and “Let’s work out a good deal! You don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy — and I will.”

But perhaps the more relevant note is that the letter was sent on October 9. The Turkish military launched its ground offensive on October 10 and has continued each day since.

Erdogan does not fear Trump and he does not respect Trump. But perhaps more significantly, Erdogan does not fear or respect the United States of America. He does not think that America is willing or capable of doing something to him and his country that will make him regret trying to smash the Kurds over the border in Syria.

A lot of presidents would be hopping mad about that. A lot of presidents would be convening their national security councils and meeting with Congress to figure out how to apply the maximum pressure on Erdogan — to send a blisteringly clear message that a warning from the United States is not to be ignored.

There’s an interesting aspect of Trump’s legendary temper — when he’s stymied against a particular foe, he tends to suddenly drop the issue and he moves on to new targets. Last night, President Trump was retweeting Lou Dobbs, asking where the server from the DNC is and complaining that Anthony Weiner’s laptop is “still in the possession of the FBI and has not undergone further analysis.”

House Democrats: Trust Us, Our Secret Fast Impeachment Will Be Totally Legit

The New York Times has now heard from every House Democrat, and all of them say they support an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. They, along with one independent, add up to 228 votes.

So why haven’t they voted on it? The Trump administration says they’re not cooperating with any request for documents or testimony because the inquiry is not legitimate unless the House votes on it. That’s . . . not necessarily legally true, but you would think that everyone who supports impeachment would also support formally voting to open an inquiry. House speaker Nancy Pelosi keeps emphasizing how important it is: “This is not a game for us. This is deadly serious, and we’re on a path that is getting us to a path to truth and timetable that respects our Constitution.”

So why not vote on it?

The easiest theory is that some of those 228 House Democrats who told the New York Times they support an impeachment inquiry don’t really support it. They like it in theory, but they fear the consequences of formally voting to start it. They prefer this limbo-like status where the House begins the impeachment process but never actually votes on starting it.

But even by the standards of spineless and cowardly members of Congress, that’s a particularly shortsighted approach to a problem that isn’t going away. You’re gonna have to vote on the articles of impeachment sooner or later anyway! What, do some swing-district members think the day is going to come when a vote to start an inquiry or to impeach isn’t going to be controversial?

And because the process is informal, Republican lawmakers are being blocked from closed-door depositions with key witnesses.

Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff says private sessions are needed “to prevent witnesses from hearing each other, the same protocol used by prosecutors in criminal investigations.”

Okay, but as we keep getting reminded, impeachment is not a legal process or criminal investigation, it is a political act. If the elected officials in the Senate do not believe that a serious crime merits removal from office — say, perjury or suborning perjury! — the president does not get removed.

The depositions will presumably be made public in the future, and Democrats say that eventually they will hold public hearings, but this looks ridiculous. We don’t even have a clear timetable on when members who aren’t on the committees will get access to the depositions. Representative David Cicilline (D., R.I.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, told Politico, “our expectation should be to have our work done by year’s end.”

But once everything gets public, according to what Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is hearing, this impeachment process could move so fast it might as well have a drive-through lane: “Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told Senate Republicans on Wednesday that he expects Speaker Nancy Pelosi to approve articles of impeachment as early as Thanksgiving, according to five people familiar with Wednesday’s party lunch. McConnell then surmised that the Senate could deal with the trial by Christmas, concluding the impeachment proceedings before the Democratic presidential primaries begin.”

To summarize, House Democrats are telling us that impeachment process is deadly serious, the House doesn’t need to vote on starting it, the first steps must be held in secret and they can’t say when everyone will be able to see the evidence and testimony they’re collecting behind closed doors . . . and yet the whole process will be done quickly.

ADDENDUM: Last year I wrote that I sometimes wonder if a significant number of political activists are “actually grappling with personal psychological issues and projecting it onto the world of politics.”

This week we learned Peter Navarro, a White House adviser on trade issues, has apparently been quoting an imaginary friend, “Ron Vara” — an anagram of Navarro — in his books for many years.

You know, guys, if you really want to write fiction, you can just write fiction.

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