As 2020 approached, we faced one of the wildest political moments in decades: A historically crowded Democratic primary, an impeachment and an unpredictable president. And that was all before an American airstrike killed a top Iranian commander and upended the Middle East.
Yeah, it’s going to be that kind of year.
Expect January to be dominated by the three I’s — Impeachment, Iran and Iowa. With so much going on in Washington, on the campaign trail and across the globe, we thought it was time to inaugurate a new newsletter feature: a Monday Mailbag.
Yes, I know we’ve been asking you for your questions about politics for months. And while we’ve responded to many of you individually, we haven’t always been exactly diligent about answering all of them.
Well, New Year, New Newsletter! Our crack researcher Isabella Grullón Paz went through hundreds of your emails and came up with a few questions that seemed to resonate for several readers. (Some have been condensed for space.)
Margaret Steiner had this astute question about President Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate:
I am confused. You talk about the centrist Republicans, the retiring Republicans and the swing state Republicans up for re-election, three groups you say to watch. You say they could form a coalition and “overpower” McConnell to “set the rules” and decide who will be a witness. How do the senators do any of this if, as you state later, they “cannot talk”?
While senators are prohibited from speaking during the actual impeachment trial, they have a fair amount of power when it comes to setting the terms of the proceeding. Under Senate rules, it takes only a simple majority to call a witness or request new evidence. Since Republicans hold 53 seats, if four Republicans joined with Senate Democrats, they could have some serious influence on the process.
This question is particularly relevant today, given the announcement by John R. Bolton, the former White House national security adviser, that he would be willing to testify at the trial if subpoenaed. Mr. Bolton is a potentially vital witness with firsthand information about the president’s actions and conversations regarding Ukraine.
Democrats want him to testify; Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has resisted the idea. But if four Republicans broke with Mr. McConnell, Mr. Bolton could be compelled to testify — making those Republicans pretty powerful, indeed.
We also got a ton of questions about the Democratic primary. Those are a little easier to answer after this weekend, when the polling gods graced us with our first piece of real data on the race in weeks.
What did we learn from the CBS News surveys of Iowa and New Hampshire? Senator Bernie Sanders is surging, Senator Elizabeth Warren is slipping in New Hampshire, and Joe Biden, the former vice president, seems to be gaining ground in Iowa.
James Levinson wants to know whether Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren could team up to take on Mr. Biden:
If Sanders and Warren conclude that neither can beat Biden, and if they also conclude that the enactment of their largely common policies is more important than which of them is in the White House, is there a way they could join forces?
The idea of a joint Sanders-Warren ticket is the dream of many liberals.
There are no signs that it will happen.
While the two senators have abided by a de facto nonaggression pact, they are not in frequent communication and there’s no indication that their camps have discussed any joint effort.
But outside of their orbits, in the larger progressive universe, discussions are happening about how to avoid splitting the liberal vote and nominating a more centrist candidate. Whether these develop into a more formal strategy will depend on how the primary plays out over the next several months. So, that’s definitely something to watch this spring.
Lisa Adams asked:
Will Michael Bloomberg be able to participate in the Democratic presidential debates? If so, when, and under what circumstances or criteria?
Mr. Bloomberg will not be on the stage next week because he hasn’t met the party’s requirement that 225,000 people donate to his campaign. (He’s self-funding his run for president and not accepting donations.) But that could change by the following debate in February, if the Democratic National Committee changes the qualification standards — which officials have said is possible.
Speaking of campaign finance, Charlene Fitzpatrick wants to know how much money matters, anyhow.
It seems like the competition for the presidency is a competition for fund-raising instead of ideas or plans. Does a president win even if his fund-raising isn’t competitive? And what is all that money spent on anyway? Why do we do this to ourselves?
Like endorsements or polling, fund-raising totals offer another way to assess the candidates’ standing in the race. A candidate who is low on cash may struggle to fund a campaign operation for the long haul — or even in the shorter haul, as the 15 candidates who’ve dropped out of the primary have found.
But it’s far from a perfect predictor: In 2016, Hillary Clinton outspent Mr. Trump by nearly two to one, and we all know how that turned out.
The money is spent on the kind of things you’d probably expect — office space, staff salaries, lawyers and especially advertising — but also on things you might not expect. Like, say, Uber rides, car repairs and paella.
As for “why do we do this to ourselves?” Honestly, Charlene, I ask myself that every day.
Drop us a line!
We want more questions for our Monday Mailbag! Send us yours at email@example.com (and please include your current city or town). Or, just let us know what’s on your mind.
Cory Booker becomes a Wing man
Nick Corasaniti, your Tuesday newsletter host, followed Cory Booker today to a place neither of them would normally be invited. Here’s his report:
Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey sat before a nearly all-female audience on Monday at a New York City branch of the Wing, a women’s club and co-working space, and was asked a question: Why shouldn’t the next president be a woman?
Mr. Booker responded by saying that his “heart, soul and spirit fought harder than ever before” to elect Hillary Clinton in 2016. But right now, he said, “I believe I have the best message and reason and, frankly, the right stuff it takes to be the president.”
He quickly added, “If I’m president of the United States, whoever my vice president will be, she will be amazing.”
See what he did there?
The often exuberant Mr. Booker brought his always-turned-up-to-11 delivery to the Wing, speaking unprompted about topics like “menstrual equity” — the idea that menstrual products should be affordable and not taxed — and his fight to make tampons free for women in prisons.
He also delivered a rare near-obscenity (he often relies on the phrase “dagnab”) when discussing his efforts to protect the right to an abortion.
“This is not an issue that men should say, ‘Oh, I understand this issue because I have a wife, I have a daughter,’” he said. “No. You have a freaking body. And this is an attack on someone’s body and the ability to control the sanctity of your body.”
Mr. Booker was the first cisgender man invited to speak at the Wing, which was founded three years ago in New York and has since grown to more than 12,000 members at over a dozen locations in the United States and abroad.
The club said it was bringing in presidential candidates to discuss “women’s issues that so often get left out of the debates,” after some of the early Democratic debates last year featured little discussion of topics like reproductive rights and the gender pay gap.
“The lesson for me has always been that when women are driving the conversation, different questions get asked, different decisions get made,” said Audrey Gelman, one of the founders of the Wing. “We felt like we’re sort of missing an opportunity to make sure that those questions get asked, and so that was the reason to do it.”
Ms. Gelman said the Wing had no plans to endorse a candidate in the Democratic primary, and was working with other 2020 campaigns to host a similar event. Many of her members, she said, were eager to hear from Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Former Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat, is moving forward with a second presidential bid, according to WPRI in Providence. His last attempt was short-lived and perhaps best remembered for his proposal to switch the United States to the metric system.
Early signs point to Mr. Chafee’s running as a libertarian, in an ongoing effort to complete his tour of America’s biggest political parties.
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