Many who read Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s devastating 448-page investigation into Russian intervention in the 2016 elections and Donald Trump’s criminal complicity found the report so compelling that calls for impeachment intensified and threatened Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s edict to focus on domestic issues, not Trump, for the 2020 elections.
After Mueller’s testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees on July 24, there’s been an uptick in calls for impeachment, a constitutional recourse to deal with a rogue, lawless president as was described in the hearings. But at day’s end, after an apparently robust private discussion among Democratic Caucus members, Pelosi still held firm. “Whatever decision we make in that regard [to initiating impeachment proceedings] would have to be done with our strongest possible hand, and we still have some outstanding matters in the courts,” Pelosi told reporters.
That means the next focus of intense political attention will be July 30 and July 31 as the Democrats hold two more presidential debates and the country takes stock of the 20 candidates in light of the pressure for impeachment and the candidates’ need to highlight other complicated issues of concern to voters throughout the country.
With the California primary moved up to Super Tuesday, March 3, 2020, some LGBTQ voters are already starting to settle on a candidate, while others are bundling and maxing out for multiple candidates. CalMatters reporter Ben Christopher has compiled data indicating that voters are contributing more to Sen. Kamala Harris and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg than former Vice President Joe Biden, who is in the third spot. That candidate pack comports with informal conversations with LGBTQ voters, some who mention Sen. Elizabeth “I have a plan for that” Warren as their second choice.
Meanwhile, Equality California is looking at voter interest, as well, sending out surveys to their 800,000 members and active email subscribers around the country, most residents of California. (To sign up for email alerts go to eqca.org.)
“As part of our endorsement process, we have been sending surveys to our members to gauge their interest in and enthusiasm for each of the top tier pro-equality candidates. In the coming months, we’ll be asking each candidate to fill out a thorough questionnaire and participate in an interview with our PAC committee,” Equality California Communications Director Samuel Garrett-Pate told the Los Angeles Blade.
But the debates will be the first dedicated opportunity for voters to watch the Democratic candidates explain their reaction to the Mueller report and hearings, which apparently is not the end of the story about what happened in 2016 and what Mueller suggested may happen again in 2020.
Mueller appeared old and halting during the Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday morning, July 24. But he became more animated before the Intelligence Committee after Chair Adam Schiff framed Trump’s campaign as an unpatriotic crass financial pursuit to benefit Trump, his family, his organization and his campaign staff in collusion with a foreign adversary.
Looking like he was barely capping a volcano, Schiff stopped just short of denouncing Trump as a traitor.
“Disloyalty to country. Those are strong words, but how else are we to describe a presidential campaign which did not inform the authorities of a foreign offer of dirt on their opponent, which did not publicly shun it, or turn it away, but which instead invited it, encouraged it, and made full use of it?” asked Schiff, a former federal prosecutor and a longtime LGBT ally representing West Hollywood and Silver Lake.
Schiff sat next to Ranking Member Rep. Devin Nunes, a rising Trump-Republican star who helped with the cover up when he was Chair of the Intelligence Committee, exposed by his “midnight ride” to the White House to concoct a plot about the investigation as a Russia hoax.
It was no hoax, no witchhunt, Mueller said. Nonetheless, Politico reported that Trump wants the Tulare, Calif., native to replace Dan Coates as Director of National Intelligence.
Schiff to Mueller: “I gather that you believe that knowingly accepting foreign assistance during a presidential election is an unethical things to do.”
Mueller: “And a crime, given certain circumstances….
Schiff: “We can agree that it is also unpatriotic.”
Mueller let slip that the FBI is still investigating “different aspects” of counter-intelligence attempts to interfere with and compromise vulnerabilities in the 2020 elections by Russia and other countries.
“It wasn’t a single attempt,” Mueller told Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd. “They’re doing it as we sit here.”
Mueller’s report ends “with a scheme to cover up, obstruct and deceive every bit as systematic and pervasive as the Russian disinformation campaign itself, but far more pernicious since this rot came from within,” Schiff said. “This is what is at stake. Our next election, and the one after that, for generations to come. Our democracy.”
“I hope this is not the new normal,” Mueller told Vermont Democrat Rep. Peter Welch at the end of the day. “But I fear it is.”
Given Trump’s penchant for distraction, one wonders what will next shift the national narrative. But questions about Mueller’s testimony and what some see as the constitutional remedy of impeachment will surely impact the debates, which are being held in Detroit, Mich., a Trump-won battleground state where the government still hasn’t fixed Flint’s dirty drinking water.
For the LGBTQ community, the stakes couldn’t be higher with the House-passed Equality Act stalled by GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and continuous rollbacks of LGBT rights, established policies and rules and just flagrant insults to please Trump’s evangelical base, such as the State Department’s new Commission on Unalienable Rights, led by an anti-gay law professor.
Stonewall Democratic Club is hosting two debate watch parties, one in Studio City and the other in West Hollywood. (Check their Facebook page). Kamala Nation is hosting a watch party at Beaches in West Hollywood on the second night.
Sen. Kamala Harris at 2019 HRC/LA gala (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Some Harris supporters are anxious to see if back-bencher Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq war vet from Hawaii, will go after Harris as unfit to be commander-in-chief. On July 23, The Hill’s Reid Wilson tweeted a prediction that Gabbard “is going to endorse Trump in the end.” The Center for American Progress’ Neera Tanden retweeted Reid, adding her own prediction: “Tulsi runs as third party Green candidate to help Trump win. I will take bets on this.”
On Tuesday, July 30, most politicos will be watching for fireworks between friends Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vermont), who’s been losing steam, and Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), who has been stealing his thunder. Sanders identifies as an independent Democratic Socialist and while Warren goes after big banks and big corporations, she identifies as a capitalist who cares about the little guy.
Also in this lineup are one-time Texas phenomenon Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a former Minnesota prosecutor who speaks knowingly about the opioid crisis. No matter how smart the rest might be, John Hickenlooper, Tim Ryan, John Delaney, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock appear as indistinguishable straight white guys.
LGBTQ voters will be keeping an eye on self-help guru Marianne Williamson for her latest explanation of how love can cure politics.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)
But most of the attention will rest upon erudite out South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who, along with his loving husband Chasten, have become moral role models for millions, LGBTQ and straight alike.
“That flag that was attached to my shoulder,” on his military uniform, the Afghanistan vet told a packed crowd of 1,100 in Seattle, Washington July 23, the Olympian reported — “I’m pretty sure it stood for the idea that you can criticize your leaders without anybody telling you to go back to where you came from.”
Keep an eye out for questions to Buttigieg about support from the African American community, which all candidates need to win the Democratic nomination. Buttigieg had issues with the Black community in South Bend, which he was honest about. Dr. Jason Johnson, Political Editor at The Root and frequent MSNBC commentator, gave Buttigieg no hope at all.
But then the mayor rolled out his 18-page “Douglas Plan”—named for black icon Fredrick Douglas— to “dismantle racist structures and systems” in the United States.
“We have lived in the shadow of systemic racism for too long,” Buttigieg said in a statement, citing white nationalism, the widening economic gap between black and white workers, and bad disparities in health outcomes, according to the Washington Post. Those disparities, “should make us all wonder how the richest country on Earth can allow this to happen under our noses.” Buttigieg compared his Douglass Plan to “the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II.”
“I’m very impressed and I’m surprised,” Johnson told Joy Reid on July 21.
But Warren, who has been well-received by African American women, talked about her plan on Juneteenth, “the annual and oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. But Juneteenth isn’t just about celebration. It’s a necessary reminder that 154 years later, Black Americans still feel the weight of government-sponsored racism and discrimination on their shoulders, Warren wrote on Medium. “Our country needs big, structural change to confront the tools of oppression Black Americans still face today…. Today on Juneteenth, and every day, we can — and must — do better. Black lives matter, Black citizens matter, Black families matter.”
Interestingly, the radical lesbian origin of Black Lives Matter seems to have been lost. The movement was founded in 2013 by three radical Black organizers—LA-based lesbian Patrisse Cullors, Oakland-based lesbian Alicia Garza, and LA-based ally Opal Tometi—in reaction to the acquittal of Trevon Martin’s killer. “As a network, we have always recognized the need to center the leadership of women and queer and trans people,” they wrote.
So far, Buttigieg and Harris appear to be the only two candidates who consistently mention the Equality Act, the LGBTQ civil rights bill that would grant LGBTQ Americans first-class citizenship. Biden mentions marriage equality, his support of which forced the hand of President Obama apparently before he was willing to publicly announce his support.
Biden and Harris will be the stars on the second debate night, July 31, with many expecting a re-match between the two from the first DNC debate. Harris’ very personal attack on Biden over race jettisoned the former California attorney general and San Francisco district attorney to the top tier and left Biden looking weak, shaken, hardly the man to take on bully Donald Trump. It gave his tepid supporters permission to voice their quiet disappointment in how long it took him to apologize to Professor Anita Hill for his treatment of her as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearing for Clarence Thomas.
The re-match this time will be over their respective plans for criminal justice reform. Expect New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker to get in some shots here, too.
Former HUD Sec. Julián Castro may earn the spotlight challenging Trump’s cruel immigration and asylum policies; New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand may make waves talking about Trump and his sex offender friend Jeffrey Epstein; Gov. Jay Inslee hopefully will get to talk about climate change but they are down the scale when it comes to fundraising to get to the next debates in September. Sen. Michael Bennet, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and affable entrepreneur Andrew Yang need a moment to stand out.
CalMatters reporter Ben Christopher notes that “Californians have thrown more than $26 million at the two dozen candidates hoping to win the Democratic nomination and take on President Donald Trump,” with Harris and Buttigieg accruing the most donations. Harris, Buttigieg, Biden, Sanders, and Warren “have taken home more than 71% of California’s itemized donations in 2019.”
Christopher also created an interactive graph and map showing how much money was raised where by which candidate.
“Harris and Buttigieg both saw big infusions from the tonier neighborhoods of Los Angeles and the Bay Area, with Harris, the former district attorney of San Francisco, doing particularly well in her former city’s mansion-festooned Pacific and Presidio Heights. Buttigieg had a strong showing in West Hollywood, which is high-income and also has a large LGBTQ community that might have particular enthusiasm for the first major Democratic candidate who is gay,” he wrote. “The ten zip codes shown above account for nearly 18% of all of California’s itemized donations this year so far.”
Of particular interest in Christopher’s analysis is his look at Trump funders in California.
“This may come as surprise to the president, the national media and more than a few Californians, but there are plenty of Trump supporters in the ‘Resistance State,’ too. And since the beginning of the year, they’ve been spending a lot of money to keep the president in the White House. New campaign finance statistics show that President Donald Trump raised $3.2 million—more money from the California donor class than all of his Democratic challengers, but two,” he writes, Harris with over $7.5 million since January 1 and Buttigieg with over $4.8 million—though money does not automatically translate to votes.
An important hitch: the Trump campaign “collected more from itemized small donors—those who gave in increments of less than $100 at a time—than anyone else in the field,” Christopher writes, meaning he can keep coming back for more money and more voter engagement. “In total, Trump raised about 11% of all presidential campaign dollars in California this year,” with a Quinnipiac University poll giving him a 35% job approval rating from California voters.
Trump, Christopher notes, “seems to have raised the most money in the conservative swaths of the state: the Central Valley, the suburban segments of southern California, the Inland Empire and the rural north.”
Some of those districts are the red districts that Democrats flipped blue in 2018, the districts whose freshman representatives Pelosi wants to protect from taking an impeachment vote. Reps. Harley Rouda, Katie Porter and Mike Levin have already come out for impeachment. But state GOP activists are going after Katie Hill and Gil Cisneros, whose blue wave energized LGBTQ voters.
Expect there to be a ripple effect from the CNN debates since Congress leaves for its long August recess a days later and those representatives will be asked about impeachment, which candidate and what issues they like when they hold their own town hall meetings.
Summer will be sweltering this year.
Please note: this story has been corrected to indicate that Rep. Harley Rouda supports impeachment.