Why you should care
Because if you thought 2018 was wild, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Welcome to a divided Washington. Starting tomorrow, Jan. 3, for the first time in Donald Trump’s presidency, the opposition party will formally control a lever of power. Expect acrimony like we haven’t seen before, starting with …
Impeachment? You Betcha
Throughout the 2018 campaign and since November, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Democrats have been careful to say they’re taking a wait-and-see approach on whether to impeach Trump. Let Robert Mueller do his work, they say, while we investigate Trump’s finances and all manner of administration scandals. Wise Washington hands warn of an impeachment backlash, recalling Bill Clinton’s midterm bump in 1998. “Voters want to see progress from Washington,” says Republican strategist Doug Heye, a former top aide on Capitol Hill. Impeachment “would impede progress on anything. It makes a deal on infrastructure or anything else that much harder.”
But Mueller is expected to wrap his investigation in the coming months, likely with a report detailing the contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign, as well as Trump’s efforts to shut down the investigation. This coupled with all of the other lines of inquiry into Trump’s business and hush money payments to women accusing him of affairs will create overwhelming pressure from the party base to try to force Trump out.
Trump has 90 percent support among Republicans, but the party is shrinking on his watch.
Put impeachment hearings on your summer calendar — just as the Democratic presidential primary debates begin — with an impeachment vote come fall. But even with GOP senators’ increasingly noisy December grumbling about Trump over the government shutdown and Syria, it’s nearly impossible to imagine 20 Senate Republicans voting with Democrats to remove Trump from office — the constitutional two-thirds threshold. And I’ll eat my hat if Trump resigns.
A Temporary Truce, but Long-Term Trade War, With China
After a recent meeting with President Xi Jinping, Trump put off steep tariff hikes on Chinese goods for 90 days so the two sides could keep talking on how to address thorny disputes such as intellectual property theft and technology transfer requirements. Since then, the war of words has continued and markets have been jittery.
Lanhee Chen, director of domestic policy studies in public policy at Stanford University and policy director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, is confident the two sides will come to a resolution. “There’s a tremendous short-term incentive to get a deal done on tariffs in the next 90 days.… They’ll do a deal,” he says. “The question is which view of the world takes over once we get past 90 days. Is it the [economic adviser] Peter Navarro view — the cynical or hawkish view of China? Or is it the [Treasury Secretary] Steven Mnuchin view, which is more conciliatory?”
My bet: Navarro’s side wins out. Trump has steadily purged “globalists” such as former Goldman Sachs executive Gary Cohn from his White House, reverting to long-held beliefs that America is getting screwed over by foreign trade partners. With new Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Trump will operate with fewer constraints in 2019. And even a serious market slide won’t deter him from pushing a hard line with China.
House Liberals Play the Outside Game, not the Shutdown Game
Before they were even sworn in, new liberal members of Congress were acting like insurgents. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined a sit-in in Pelosi’s office over climate change. Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and others protested a congressional orientation for being too corporate-friendly.
It’s an indication of how this clutch of newcomers, along with members like Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Pramila Jayapal, plan to push their agenda: from the outside in. Waleed Shahid, spokesman for the Justice Democrats, a group born out of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign that helped vault liberals like Ocasio-Cortez into Congress, says to expect more radical transparency, bringing out the inner workings of Congress via Instagram and Twitter.
“The power is with the bully pulpits they bring,” says Shahid, a term typically used for presidents — but Ocasio-Cortez and her 1.6 million Twitter followers certainly qualify. That means more attention-grabbing measures to push the Green New Deal (moving America to 100 percent renewable energy, with a guaranteed job for all), free college, Medicare-for-all, an end to cash bail and so forth. There are some parallels with the Republicans’ hard-right Freedom Caucus, which has exerted pressure on GOP leaders — occasionally with government shutdown brinkmanship. “I don’t think that’s where they see their leverage point,” Shahid says of the progressives. “At the end of the day, our leaders believe in government.” So they won’t want to shut it down.
Trump Dumps Pence … for Nikki Haley
Mike Pence has proved to be an incredibly devoted vice president in the face of some highly unusual White House goings-on. It’s the kind of loyalty Trump appreciates, but let’s face it: Pence is pretty boring. And if the Trump Show is getting a little stale and in need of a new star entering sweeps … er … re-election, what better way to capture the nation’s attention than by shaking up the ticket?
Pence was critical to Trump’s 2016 win, a validator for religious conservatives and others who doubted Trump’s ideological moorings. Now the president can simply point to the Supreme Court for evidence of his commitment to conservatism. In addition, he’s gone after Planned Parenthood and transgender rights, winning plaudits from religious conservatives who care more about policy results than personal conduct.
Trump has 90 percent support among Republicans, but the party is shrinking on his watch. Want to recapture some of those conservative-leaning suburban women who went to Democrats in 2018? He could tap the dynamic outgoing U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley as his new vice president. For a president who loves drama, such an option could be irresistible.
Read more: What Mulvaney gets wrong about the Trump revolution.