Impeachment circus a useful distraction


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On the roster: Impeachment circus a useful distraction - Trump says beloved Michigan legislator may be in hell - I’ll Tell You What: Waxy and disappointing - Fight night in California - Paw Patrol to the rescue

IMPEACHMENT CIRCUS A USEFUL DISTRACTION
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed a not-unfounded concern this morning that impeachment could become the norm for future American presidents rather than a “once in a generation” affair.

Maybe he’s right. Maybe, like Star Wars movies, pre-marital sex and open collars at the office, impeachment will be just another thing that was exciting in the 70s but is now quotidian.

Maybe he’s wrong. Maybe President Trump is a special case.

Like Andrew Johnson before him, Trump almost seemed to want to be impeached. He made his fateful call to squeeze his Ukrainian counterpart the day after then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller had said grace over his two-year probe into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. Trump had just cleared the last hurdle and immediately turned back to the racecourse of Slavic shenanigans.

Maybe we found a president whose contempt for Congress exceeds even that knock-kneed institution’s desperate desire to avoid relevance.

But whether McConnell is right that we have entered into an era of serial, partisan impeachments or whether Trump is a one-off doesn’t concern us just now. That’s up to future presidents and future congresses. The question at hand is how this little melodrama plays into our current political moment.

Here’s the first obvious consequence: This orgy of negative partisanship is providing great coverage for the bi-partisan establishment to do other things.

Were we not having an impeachment we would be talking so much more about the 2020 Democratic race. Joe Biden may get madder than a wet hen when people ask him about his son’s foreign influence pedaling — the subject matter of Trump’s offense — but the former vice president has been walking away with the Democratic nomination in no small part because the race is happening in a relative vacuum. It’s hard for an underdog to make a move when the race is the seventh biggest story of the day. Barack Obama could never have beaten Hillary Clinton under these circumstances.

But the real marvel is what impeachment is allowing for in Congress and at the White House.

The president and Congress are sending each other hate mail and the demi-demagogues of both parties are auditioning to see who can show the greatest contempt for each other. No camera in a 30-mile radius is safe from the spittle-flecked exhortations of brain-dead partisans. It’s a civil war! It’s the end of the republic! It’s a constitutional crisis!

Bah humbug.

What we are really watching is a remarkably productive season for the federal government.

Given the cover that the impeachment process provides both parties with their respective political bases, they are free to as they please. And what always pleases politicians is rewarding their patrons and expanding their power.

Take, for example, the new entitlement just created for our nation’s 2 million federal civilian employees. While workers in the private sector mostly make do with a few months of unpaid leave after the birth of a child, federal employees will now get 12 weeks of paid leave. That’s a multi-billion dollar obligation for generations to come.

Maybe you think that’s a good idea. Maybe you think that’s a bad idea. But it most certainly would’ve gotten a great deal more attention were we not going through the motions of this impeachment. Certainly Republican incumbents would be worried about showing such generosity to one of the most resented classes of American citizens.

Or how about the news that a federal increase in the minimum age to purchase tobacco products was pinned on the backside of a gargantuan spending bill slated for passage just before the lights go out for Christmas.

Again, like it or dislike it, such a measure would generate huge controversy if all the partisan ducks weren’t all quacking impeachment all day.

And remember “the wall” and how Democrats would never, ever, ever fund one penny of the president’s demand? Remember how we had a government shutdown over what was essentially a $3 billion disagreement over border security funding? Now? JK! LOLZ!

The federal government is passing big trade deals, spending huge sums of cash, expanding its authority, doubling down on massive military commitments around the globe and nobody has time to care because they must rush to the cameras to repeat the same partisan pap about an impeachment and acquittal that have been foregone conclusions for months.

So maybe McConnell really is right that impeachment will be the new norm. If it works this well at distracting the tyrannical bases of both parties, impeachment may end up being a bigger bipartisan enthusiasm than trillion-dollar deficits.

TRUMP SAYS BELOVED MICHIGAN LEGISLATOR MAY BE IN HELL
Fox News: “Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said President Trump’s ‘hurtful’ words at a rally in her state Wednesday implying her late husband former Rep. John Dingell might be in hell made her ‘healing much harder.’ Trump attacked Dingell and her husband at a ‘Merry Christmas’ rally in Battle Creek, Mich., about two hours away from her district as the House voted to impeach him. ‘Debbie Dingell, that’s a real beauty,’ Trump said to a rapt crowd that booed the mention of Dingell's name. The president said he gave Dingell the ‘A+ treatment’ after his death last February and Debbie had called him to say ‘it’s the nicest thing that’s ever happened, thank you so much. John would be so thrilled. He’s looking down.’ ‘I said, ‘That's OK. Don't worry about it.’ Maybe he's looking up. I don't know,’ he quipped to mixed reactions from the audience. ‘Maybe, but let’s assume he’s looking down.’ Dingell, who voted to impeach the president Wednesday, responded on Twitter…”

Putin defends Trump - AP: “Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that U.S. President Donald Trump was impeached for ‘far-fetched’ reasons, calling the move by Democrats a continuation of their fight against the Republican leader. ‘The party that lost the (2016) election, the Democratic Party, is trying to achieve results by other means,’ Putin said at his annual news conference in Moscow. He likened Trump’s impeachment to the earlier U.S. probe into collusion with Russia, which Putin played down as groundless. Former special counsel Robert Mueller concluded earlier this year that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election in a ‘sweeping and systematic fashion.’”

Pergram: Senate trial could be biggest reality TV show of all time - Fox News: “The Senate has a specific set of 25 rules which dictate operations for a Senate impeachment trial. But the Senate’s only conducted 17 impeachment trials in history. No one knows how President Trump’s prospective Senate trial may look. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have wrestled for days about the possibilities of a Senate trial. So far, neither side is giving any quarter. Senate impeachment trial rules are vague. … A Senate trial isn’t expected to begin until January. And, Lott and Daschle didn’t reach their agreement until just before Clinton’s trial started two decades ago. And if there’s no pact on a Senate trial, Trump could find himself in a familiar spot: the star in a Senate trial.”

The Judge’s Ruling: Impeachment needed? - This week Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano discusses the historical and legal aspects of impeachment: “The rule of law is a cornerstone of American democracy and is integral to the Constitution. It stands for the principles that no person is beneath the laws' protections. No person is above the laws' requirements. And the laws apply equally to all people. That is the theory of the rule of law. In practice, as the power of the federal government has grown almost exponentially since 1789 and the power of the presidency has grown with it, presidents have claimed immunity from the need to comply with the law while in office. They have also claimed immunity from the consequences of the failure to comply with the law.” More here.

THE RULEBOOK: IT’S IN THE DETAILS
“In order to ascertain the real character of the government, it may be considered in relation to the foundation on which it is to be established; to the sources from which its ordinary powers are to be drawn; to the operation of those powers; to the extent of them; and to the authority by which future changes in the government are to be introduced.” – James Madison, Federalist No. 39

TIME OUT: UNDER THE SEA
Atlantic: “Many people imagine the seabed to be a vast expanse of sand, but it’s a jagged and dynamic landscape with as much variation as any place onshore. Mountains surge from underwater plains, canyons slice miles deep, hot springs billow through fissures in rock, and streams of heavy brine ooze down hillsides, pooling into undersea lakes. These peaks and valleys are laced with most of the same minerals found on land. Scientists have documented their deposits since at least 1868, when a dredging ship pulled a chunk of iron ore from the seabed north of Russia. … For more than a century, oceanographers continued to identify new minerals on the seafloor—copper, nickel, silver, platinum, gold, and even gemstones—while mining companies searched for a practical way to dig them up. Today, many of the largest mineral corporations in the world have launched underwater mining programs.”

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SCOREBOARD
DEMOCRATIC 2020 POWER RANKING
Biden: 26.2 points (↓ 1.4 points from last wk.)
Sanders: 18.6 points (↑ 0.4 points from last wk.)
Warren: 16.2 points (↓ 2.2 points from last wk.)
Buttigieg: 9.4 points (↑ 0.8 points from last wk.)
Bloomberg: 5.2 points (first listing)
[Averages include: NBC News/WSJ, CNN, Quinnipiac University, USA Today/Suffolk University and NPR/PBS/Marist.]

TRUMP JOB PERFORMANCE 
Average approval: 43.8 percent
Average disapproval: 51.4 percent
Net Score: -7.6 percent
Change from one week ago: ↑ 2 points 
[Average includes: NBC/WSJ: 44% approve - 54% disapprove; CNBC: 40% approve - 49% disapprove; CNN: 44% approve - 52% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 43% approve - 52% disapprove; USA Today/Suffolk University: 48% approve - 50% disapprove.]

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I’LL TELL YOU WHAT: WAXY AND DISAPPOINTING
This week Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt discuss obstacles Democrats are facing while moving forward with impeachment, Chris gives his take on the most recent Fox News Poll and Dana shares a story about a special delivery. Plus, impeachment trivia. LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE

FIGHT NIGHT IN CALIFORNIA
AP: “A winnowed field of Democratic presidential contenders takes the debate stage Thursday for a sixth and final time in 2019, as candidates seek to convince anxious voters that they are the party’s best hope to deny President Donald Trump a second term. The televised contest ahead of Christmas will bring seven rivals to heavily Democratic California, the biggest prize in the primary season and home to 1 in 8 Americans. And, coming a day after a politically divided U.S. House voted to impeach the Republican president, the debate will underscore the paramount concern for Democratic voters: Who can beat Trump in November? With voters distracted by the holidays and the impeachment proceedings in Washington, the debate in Los Angeles could turn out to be the least watched so far. … The race in California has largely mirrored national trends, with former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren clustered at the top of the field, followed by South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, businessman Andrew Yang and billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer.”

Warren continues to lag - NBC News: “Former Vice President Joe Biden remains the frontrunner in the race for the Democratic nomination, while Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has returned to the level of support that preceded her autumn surge, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows. Biden gets the support of 28 percent of Democratic primary voters, statistically unchanged from his standing in the NBC/WSJ October poll, while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders stands at 21 percent and Warren has 18 percent. Warren’s 18 percent share is a 5-point drop from her level of support in October and a 7 point fall from her peak in September. The trio of top candidates is trailed by South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 9 percent, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar at 5 percent, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg at 4 percent, and businessman Andrew Yang at 3 percent. Both Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker have the support of 2 percent of Democratic primary voters, while the remainder of the candidates … receive 1 percent support or less.”

Sanders, Bloomy take different approaches to California - AP: “No two Democratic presidential candidates are putting as many resources into the fight for California as Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman and former New York mayor, and Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator. Sanders is marshaling his passionate volunteers to win the biggest prize of the presidential primary season, while Bloomberg arrives with a virtually unlimited checkbook after a late entry in the race. For now, they’re deploying different strategies. Bloomberg is focused on television advertising, long viewed as the best way to reach voters in the state that is home to 40 million people, while Sanders is focused on door-to-door campaigning on the ground. But they each have the resources and plans to do both, and earlier than most of their rivals.”

Warren to meet with tribal leaders - WaPo: “Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) will meet privately with tribal leaders this weekend during her first trip to her home state of Oklahoma as a presidential candidate, the latest outreach in a nearly three-year effort to atone to Native Americans for her former claims that she was ‘American Indian.’ Representatives from all of the roughly 40 federally recognized tribes in the state were invited to a round table meeting with Warren in Tulsa on Sunday morning, ahead of a town hall meeting she is hosting that evening in Oklahoma City. … The previously unreported meeting will focus on Warren’s agenda for Native Americans and is part of a broader effort to highlight issues important to them. Warren is also trying to blunt the criticism she has faced over the years for appropriating Native American culture by identifying as such, according to three people familiar with the meeting…”

Booker to run first TV ad during debate - Fox News: “He didn’t make the stage, but many TV viewers watching Thursday night’s Democratic presidential primary debate will likely – and briefly - still see Sen. Cory Booker. The senator from New Jersey will run the first television commercial of his Democratic campaign during the debate, which will be broadcast nationally on PBS and simulcast on cable TV by CNN. Booker’s campaign announced early Thursday that their ad is specifically targeting viewers tuning into the debate and will be seen in 22 TV markets across the country, including the four early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, as well as in New York City, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles. In the 30-second spot titled ‘Together,’ Booker jokes ‘how long are these things? 30 seconds? Are you sure we can afford this?’”

The brains behind the Biden campaign - Politico: “While most presidential campaigns produce strategists and operatives who become high-profile political characters in a years long drama, you’ve probably never heard of the Joe Biden brain trust. … But Biden’s team, a group of people who arguably navigated him through 2019 better than any of his opponents, keeping the candidate at the top of national polls for the entire year, has been largely invisible. Since the start of Biden’s campaign, he’s relied on a core group of half a dozen people. … But when the upper echelons of the Biden operation assemble at campaign headquarters in Philadelphia’s Center City, the group looks a lot like Biden: old and white and with long experience in Democratic party battles of a bygone era. The average age of those six—Steve Ricchetti, Mike Donilon, Ron Klain, Valerie Biden Owens, Bruce Reed and Anita Dunn—is 62.”

MEADOWS ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT FROM CONGRESS
WaPo: “Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), one of President Trump’s closest allies and staunchest defenders in Congress, announced Thursday that he would not seek reelection next year but would instead stay ‘in the fight’ with Trump in an unspecified role. ‘For everything there is a season,’ Meadows said in a statement. ‘After prayerful consideration and discussion with family, today I’m announcing that my time serving Western North Carolina in Congress will come to a close at the end of this term.’ Meadows, a former chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who has served in Congress since 2013, is the 25th House Republican to announce he will not seek reelection next year, according to a tally by the House Press Gallery. Meadows, 60, was considered for the position of Trump’s chief of staff last year, but Trump ultimately told him that he would like him to remain on Capitol Hill.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Federal appeals court strikes down ObamaCare rule, setting up Supreme Court showdown - Fox News

AUDIBLE: TAKING THE HEAT
“There’s backlash with every vote we take. It’s kind of what we signed up for.” –  Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., after taking his first procedural vote on impeachment per Politico.

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PAW PATROL TO THE RESCUE
BBC: “A three-year-old boy whose father suffered a seizure took to a main road on his toy truck to raise the alarm. Stefan Snowden, from Twenty, Lincolnshire, [England] covered a quarter of a mile on his Paw Patrol truck after his father, Marc, fell ill at home. He was then spotted by two women on the A151 main road as passing traffic beeped and drove round the youngster. Stefan later told police his ‘daddy was poorly.’ His mother, Carla Neve, 25, said Stefan had set off from the family's home after Mr. Snowden, 28, suffered a seizure on the sofa at home. ‘He loses consciousness when he has a seizure,’ she said, as she praised her son for his bravery. ‘Stefan knows how to get out of the front door and must have gone to get his truck,’ the couple said. Insp Rachel Blackwell, from Lincolnshire Police, also praised the women who stepped in to help… Insp Blackwell added Mr. Snowden was now ‘doing fine’ and the family were ‘so thankful to these two amazing people’ who helped their son.”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“Spring will be left to the happier sound of ball meeting bat. That sound — what the president calls the American sound — makes the final, fatal case against football. If baseball exists, why football?” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on Jan. 25, 1985.

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.