Roundtable – Democrats After the Shutdown

The Roundtable is Torchlight staff’s discussion of news and events. The text has been lightly edited for clarity. This conversation happened on January 27, 2019.

Josh Kyu Saiewitz, Senior Managing Editor

Hello and welcome to the Roundtable, Torchlight’s discussion of news and events. I’m Sr. Managing Editor Josh Kyu Saiewitz, and with me are Jr. Managing Editor David Schmitz, Editor Christopher Dahlin, and contributing writer Ann Anderson. The Trump Shutdown has finally ended. Was it worth it? …no. But it does seem to have changed the political situation. The Democrats are in an interesting position on a lot of fronts. 2020 candidates are jumping into the race, new members of Congress are pushing progressive new policies like a wealth tax and the Green New Deal, and the Democratic House is ready to start investigating the Trump administration. What’s the most exciting opportunity here, and what’s the most important priority for the party right now?

Christopher Dahlin, Politics Editor (aka Christo)

The most important priority is sticking with the message that they have what works, and what the American people want. Medicare for All (or some form of it, anyway), a plan for our deteriorating environment and climate change, a way to mitigate and reverse course on the centralizing of our economy are all on the table. These policies are all popular, and the Republicans are not going to be able to weaponize a candidates name like they did last time. (Except possibly Harris, but the public seems way more pissed about things this time around)

David Schmitz, Junior Managing Editor

The single most important thing for me is that we don’t fracture through the primary process. Every candidate needs to make it clear that they support one another and will fully endorse whoever is the winner. Absolutely no equivocations or flimsiness allowed.

Ann Anderson

Healthcare, infrastructure, income inequality and climate change are all areas that voters indicated they were most concerned about in the last election.  If Democrats can be seen to be making serious efforts to move the ball forward on those fronts, they stand a chance of holding on to gains they made during 2020 and expanding upon them.  They need to be seen to not just be the party of “Not the GOP” but to actually be responding to many American’s concerns.

There are a lot of opportunities here, but let’s face it. The Senate and the presidency present obstacles to getting things actually accomplished.  Democrats need to move the ball forward as much as possible, but they aren’t going to get healthcare for all through the Senate. So I also think they need to some wins in their column that are constructive, i.e., things that can be done through the House, like investigations and ethics accountability.

Josh

I definitely think that the next two years is about positioning for 2020. That means continuing to move policy ideas into the broader discussion, like the way AOC and Warren have gotten people talking about a 70% tax rate on top incomes. That’s also part of making sure every primary candidate embraces progressive policy like Medicare for All. But I also think investigations and oversight are vital. Do you think Democrats should ultimately move to impeach Trump? If so, when do they pull that trigger?

Christo

For political reasons it has to be after Mueller. Both because it gives political cover, but also because I do trust Mueller is doing his job meticulously. We not only need i’s dotted and t’s crossed, but also to kill the metaphor we need the exact correct font and kerning and so on. It also lets the public know where the House is going, and a road map like that is exactly the kind of transparency we need.

Now, I believe that Trump has not only done impeachable things (within the last 24 hours, probably), but also prosecutable things. And I want the people who attacked my country to  suffer the consequences.

Josh

To devil’s advocate, isn’t there a concern that Mueller has different priorities than the Democratic party and the Democratic House? Mueller is going after what he can prove, but it’s Congress’ job to find the truth, including of things that are unethical but not illegal; and it’s the Democratic party’s job to spin political gold out of straw, which in this metaphor is criminal straw. I’m not sure waiting for Mueller is going to work forever.

Ann

Impeachment is tricky. You don’t want to pull the trigger and then have egg on your face, like the GOP did with Clinton.  You want to have a solid. That’s why there is a lot of talk about waiting for Mueller’s report. But the problem is what happens with that report. Does it go public? When does it come out?  If the Democrats wait too long, don’t they risk some loss of credibility that way too? The standard for successful impeachment is incredibly high, and the Senate will be incredibly resistant (although obviously, that depends on how much Trump puts the GOP Senators in jeopardy).  So it’s a tough go. The House Democrats want to be seen as moving for impeachment on solid grounds, but it’s hard to say when that moment has arrived. We’ll have to wait a bit and see what comes out of the initial wave of House investigative moves now that the shutdown is on hold.

David

I have a feeling that impeachment proceedings will not commence until after the 2020 elections, assuming Trump has lost and perhaps even the Senate has flipped. And he very well might be removed from office. In any case, it needs to be considered if Mike Pence needs impeached simultaneously if only to prevent the pardon train.

Christo

Yes, there is some risk to waiting after Mueller. he problem is that the Republican party is absolutely not going to vote to convict, and so the Senate will not convict. impeachment is a criminal matter, and so we have to tar all of them with the brush. It is true that Mueller and the House have different aims, but there are political realities. We aren’t trying to get a conviction in the Senate, but in the public opinion. I am not optimistic about Republicans ever doing the right thing, although they may eventually do the selfish thing.  At this point, I don’t know. I would’ve promised you that the Shutdown absolutely could not possibly last a month, so I am a little gunshy of making predictions right now.

Josh

I think you’re off base, David. The Clinton impeachment lasted three months. Aside from everything else, Congress has a duty to check the Executive, a duty the Republican Congress has been shirking (if not directly circumventing) the past two years. If Trump loses in 2020 but gets to go his whole four year term without being impeached, the Constitutional remedy there is of little real value. I would say they should pass articles of impeachment by the end of the year at the very latest. We need to build a case publicly against Trump, we need the public to know what Mueller knows.

Josh

Let’s pivot to the 2020 candidates. A lot people have or probably will soon throw their hat in the ring for the Democratic primary, and most of them seem to have similar policy platforms. Broadly speaking, what will make a candidate stand out to you? What do you think the primary campaigns will look like?

David

I’m not sure what it’s like for anyone else, but living in a state that A: is late to the party in the primary season and B: is rather irrelevant in the general, I’m always just on the lookout for candidates that motivate the base and broaden the appeal on the outskirts of the party. It’s what got Obama elected and to a certain extent but for other particular reason got Trump elected. I haven’t got a clue who that is yet for this election but I think that’s the correct strategy for any candidate for President. As for the campaigns, I’m fully expecting some viciousness as these ambitious folks see a gaping opening with Trump’s numbers in the dump and probably not going up. It feels like virtually any person who gets the nomination is a shoe in but good god if I’m not afraid of both third party candidates and the Electoral College ruining it all again.

Christo

I mean, Russia is probably going to try again too

Ann

I’m glad to see embracing of more progressive ideals by the candidates so far.  Income inequality, climate change, healthcare for all. These are all big issues that the majority of Americans want to see tackled.  I’d like to also see some kind of reforms in ethics and campaign finance, but that is a much more difficult sell. Not because folks on the Left don’t see the need, but because the devil is in the details.

Again, I think it ultra-important to not just be the anti-GOP or anti-Trump party, but for the Democrats to be a party that actually stands for ideals and change important to Americans.  I also don’t want the see Democrats tear themselves to pieces on the way to the primaries. There needs to be care here. The Democratic party is a “big tent” party, and that means managing to strike a balance that ends up not alienating all the factions under the tent. The primary processes lately have had a tendency to strike to divide the various factions, and it hurts Democrats in the general election.

On the nuts and bolts end of things, I’d like to see someone with some level of political experience, particularly experience on the Hill as a candidate. That’s not because I have a love of DC, but because I recognize there is an advantage to having an executive who knows how the bread is made.

Josh

Personally, I’m very interested in seeing a young, diverse candidate — somebody who can make an outsider argument while also having enough experience to do the job. I also think younger candidates have a better handle on how to deal with Trump and the modern GOP. I don’t want somebody who is going to try and be centrist and work across the aisle, because cooperation with a party that won’t cooperate is a fool’s game. Democratic policies are majority policies and I want someone who won’t apologize for them.

Let’s finish up by talking about those policies. What are you most excited for, either in the candidates’ platforms or in the Green New Deal and other progressive ideas that have been raised by the new freshman Congress class? Are these pie in the sky or do we think they can actually be accomplished?

Ann

I think I am most excited about addressing income inequality. I love the idea of commitments to climate change, and healthcare overhaul is long overdue. As is infrastructure, environmental concerns, education reform, etc.  But for me, income inequality and the related socioeconomic changes that have come with it, including a shift in our corporate model and innovation, has been dumping the U.S. into the toilet for a while now, and reversal is critical for a lot of change that needs to happen in this country.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s reintroducing the idea of the 70 percent top tax rate sounds great to me, in part because this country already knows it works. I am open to other suggestions, but that one really excites me to hear get play from Congresspersons, not just pundits. It gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, the income inequality impasse may eventually end before it’s too late.

Christo

I think we need to address climate change, first and foremost. Nothing else matters if we completely screw ourselves with regards to the environment. We need the Green New Deal, and frankly we needed it a decade ago.  I absolutely agree it’s time to start in a compromise position. The reasonable and rational position is not always in the middle, and I think the American public is ready for a candidate that will stand strong for something from the left, not just the center.

Josh

I think you both bring up good points. Frankly, it’s been decades of Republican rule, and the result is a county with many long-term problems and crises that need solving. I’m excited to see that the party isn’t settling on health care. In fact, Democrats are pushing forward on many fronts, and maybe the most exciting thing of all is to see a party reinvigorated, unapologetic, and ready to fight for the betterment of the American people in a way we haven’t seen in quite some time. These next two years are going to feel very different from the last, I think. That’s hope. And that’s all the time we have today. Thanks all for a lively discussion!

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