About

Jonathan Alter is an award-winning author, reporter, columnist, radio host and television producer and analyst. He is the author of three New York Times bestsellers: “The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies”(2013), “The Promise: President Obama, Year One” (2010) and “The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope (2006), also one of the Times’ “Notable Books” of the year. Since 1996, Alter has been an analyst and contributing correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC, appearing on-air two or three times a week.

After 28 years as a columnist and senior editor at Newsweek, where he wrote more than 50 cover stories, Alter is now a twice-monthly columnist for the Daily Beast and the co-host, with his wife, Emily Lazar, and two of his children, Charlotte Alter and Tommy Alter, of “Alter Family Politics,” which airs Thursdays at 10:00 a.m. on RadioAndy on SiriusXM, 102. He has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Washington Monthly, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, The New Republic, Esquire, Bloomberg View and other publications.

He is an executive producer of “Alpha House,” a 21-episode half-hour political comedy created by Garry Trudeau and starring John Goodman that is available for viewing on Amazon.com. He is at work on a full-length biography of former President Jimmy Carter and is co-directing a HBO documentary about the lives of legendary journalists Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill.

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Today’s Currency

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

Let’s imagine it’s November 7 and the Republicans have the night before lost 20 seats in the House of Representatives, but still maintain control. Feeling vindicated, President Trump immediately fires Jeff Sessions, Rod Rosenstein, and federal prosecutors in New York, and Rosenstein’s replacement fires Robert Mueller.

The president is emboldened to move as the nation’s first authoritarian president against law enforcement, the press and anyone else who stands in his way. Relieved Republicans on Capitol Hill kill Obamacare, gut remaining environmental protections, bring back water-boarding, and build Trump’s wall.

“If Republicans win, that’s the ballgame,” former Vice-President Walter Mondale, a normally unflappable guy, told columnist Albert Hunt last month. “If Trump can claim ‘the public has spoken, and they are for me,’ we’re in real trouble.”

According to the conventional wisdom, this won’t happen. The combination of a natural tilt toward the out-of-power party, greater enthusiasm on the Democratic side, and Trump’s horrific performance in office will add up to a blue wave, or something close to it. Trump will be checked.

This is probably right. Probably. The consensus among experts is that the Democrats have about a 60-70 percent chance of winning the 23 House seats necessary to wrest control of the House from the Devin Nuneses of the world. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like those odds. Remember how wrong the Labor Day polls were in 2016? Remember how sure we all were after the Access Hollywood tape that Trump was toast?

Winning—and saving the republic—requires victories in more than half of the seats currently declared “toss-ups.” That won’t be easy, especially since the Koch Network and a tiny band of other GOP mega-donors are investing more than $100 million in Republican candidates after Labor Day, neutralizing the financial advantage Democrats have built in several races. Republicans are already way ahead in financing critical state legislative contests (which also helps their House candidates) and, inexplicably, in cutting-edge digital advertising.

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The Case for Censure

Censure the president

By Jonathan Alter – July 18 at 6:15 PM
Jonathan Alter is an MSNBC analyst and columnist for the Daily Beast.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-case-for-censuring-trump/2018/07/18/13f226ce-8acc-11e8-a345-a1bf7847b375_story.html?utm_term=.c77d0874a448

Sixty-four years ago, the U.S. Senate censured the bullying demagogue Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin for conduct that “tended to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute.” McCarthy lingered in the Senate for another 2 ½ years., but the censure essentially ended his early-1950s “Red Scare” reign of intimidation and character assassination.

Now President Trump, with his craven performance opposite Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, has brought his office into dishonor and disrepute. In doing so, Trump has presented a gift to congressional Democrats who dread campaigning on impeachment for the midterm election in the fall. The promise to censure Trump if Democrats retake the House would likely appeal more to voters than vowing to undo the 2016 election through impeachment.

For all the bipartisan condemnation of what has been called the “Helsinki humiliation,” censure isn’t part of the discussion. It should be.

The Senate will not be a fruitful place to look for it. Timid Senate Republicans remain too frightened of their constituents to sanction their president. Under the most common reading of the rules, censure in the Senate would take 60 votes — a high bar unless special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation turns up five-alarm evidence involving the president.

The House, by contrast, requires only a simple majority to approve a motion of censure. If Democrats take that chamber this fall, they could censure Trump as early as January. He would obviously use it to try to rally his base. But even if the vote were largely symbolic, a resolution officially condemning Trump on national security and other grounds would be worth the trouble.

Censure would provide at least some measure of accountability for Trump, and it would be a repudiation-by-proxy of Putin. Along with strengthened sanctions against Russia, censure would send a strong message to the world that the U.S. president’s assault on NATO and capitulation to the Kremlin do not reflect the policy of the full U.S. government.

Censure, by either the Senate or the House, is not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, and it has no legal force. But its rare use — only two dozen or so times in the nation’s history — makes it an especially stinging reprimand. Among presidents, only Andrew Jackson has been censured (for withholding key documents about the Bank of the United States), though his censure was later expunged. In 1998, when President Clinton was embroiled in a sex scandal involving a White House intern, many Senate Democrats favored voting for censure and moving on. But the Republican-controlled House was hellbent on impeaching him, instead. Republicans paid a price for that overreach, as today’s Democrats may well note.

In Trump’s case, censure would not be a substitute for impeachment but a possible precursor to it. At a minimum, advocating censure would be a movement-building effort that would bring tone and focus to the amorphous “Check Trump” themes that Democratic candidates will use before the midterms. It would embed Helsinki in the campaign and help keep that ghastly episode fresh even after attention shifts elsewhere.

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Democrats Are Primed to Win Big, Reclaim the House, and Save Our Democracy. Here’s How They Could Blow It.

This election will either legitimize Trump’s rule or upend it. There’s no time or money to waste on divisive primaries or contests far removed from competitive House seats.

GOP Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania announced this month that he was resigning from Congress and told Republicans: “Big wave coming—get off the beach.”

Dent is probably right. A little more than six months before the midterms, predictive models point to Democrats winning control of the House of Representatives. A strong history of pick-ups by the party out of the White House, disgust with President Trump, good results in special elections, 46 Republican retirements (compared to 20 Democrats), and an energized Democratic base all augur well.

The question isn’t whether the odds favor flipping the House, but whether Democrats should bank on it. And the answer—for anyone who cares about protecting American democracy—is an obvious no.

Six months is a lifetime in politics. Trump’s popularity won’t recover by fall, but a deal with North Korea and a couple of other breaks could shift the momentum just enough to protect vulnerable Republican seats. And the recent history of midterms strongly favors Republicans, who took the House in 2010. In 2014, turnout fell to 37 percent, the lowest in 70 years, with the steepest falloff among Democrats.

Most Democrats get it; they’re focused and girded for battle, with a bumper crop of young and exciting candidates, including a record number of women. But too many others wring their hands watching cable news without educating themselves about which seats in their states are in play and what they can do to flip them. And a remnant of lefties are still living in Jill Steinland—acting as if the midterms are in the bag and they can indulge in expensive primary fights over minor policy differences that drain resources from the constitutionally critical task at hand.

Are Democrats in danger of once again forming a circular firing squad? The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is so worried that it’s pressuring weaker candidates in some districts to drop out in favor of well-funded moderates with a better chance of winning in November. California, where a half dozen seats are flippable (one quarter of those needed to gain control), is a particular concern because the state’s “top two” primary system means a large field of Democrats could split the vote and leave two Republicans running against each other in the general election.

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QUID PRO QUO

The Opening Argument in the Trial of Donald J. Trump

03.18.18 9:02 PM ET

https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-opening-argument-in-the-trial-of-donald-j-trump?ref=home

For Trump, the motive for the crime was to use any edge he could to win the election, even if it was clearly illegal, and to complete business deals with the Russians if he lost. 
Good prosecutors always have a theory of the case. While much of special counsel Robert Mueller’s evidence remains unknown, the contours of the criminal conspiracy case against President Trump are coming into view. The public might hear it at an impeachment trial in the Senate next year (if the House goes Democratic) or in a jury trial (if the Supreme Court, which has never ruled on the constitutionality of criminally prosecuting a president, allows it). Either way, here is a reasonable approximation of the story the prosecutor would tell the court and the American people in his opening argument:May it please the court. Ladies and gentlemen: This is a simple case about a plot hatched during the 2016 presidential election. The story begins with close business contacts between the Defendant, Donald John Trump, and Russian oligarchs, including some who obtained and distributed illegally hacked emails belonging to the Democratic Party in order to help Trump win. It continues with Trump and his associates—after receiving stolen goods—promising a major favor to the Russians in return for their criminal activity. And it ends with the Defendant Trump trying to cover up his crimes. Actually, the true end of the story is in your hands—when justice and accountability are restored.First, a little Latin. I took Latin in high school but remember almost nothing. I have, however, picked up a few Latin phrases over the years. One of them, which will be an important part of this case, is quid pro quo. It literally means, in English, “something for something.” An exchange of favors. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.Now, all of us engage in favor swapping or quid pro quos every day. Nothing wrong with it most of the time. If you cook dinner, I’ll do the dishes. But when the “quid” is an illegal act, it’s a whole different story. Then the “quo” is often illegal, too, even if it wouldn’t be on its own. If you rob a bank and use the money you stole to help me, and in return I promise to help you out, then I’m in a lot of trouble, too, especially if I try to throw the cops off the scent.In this case, you will learn that in return for the Russians stealing and releasing emails, the Defendant Trump and members of his staff promised—publicly and privately—that after being sworn in, the new president would drop U.S. government sanctions against the Russian government and Russian oligarchs who are close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The stolen emails and a variety of other illegal Russian efforts to hurt the Clinton campaign were the currency the Russians used to barter for sanctions relief.
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Trump-Russia Isn’t About the Cover-Up. It’s About the Crime.

In Watergate, it was the cover-up, not the crime. But in Russiagate, that stands to be turned on its head. We already know a lot—and we can be sure Mueller knows more.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/trump-russia-isnt-about-the-cover-up-its-about-the-crime

Recall the Watergate cliché that the cover-up is worse than the crime. That may have been true then. While it was never established that President Nixon knew in advance about the break-in at the Watergate complex, he was forced to resign after proof emerged that he used the CIA to obstruct the FBI investigation.

In the Russia scandal, special counsel Robert Mueller has credible proof of obstruction of justice—i.e., the cover-up. But in a highly politicized climate, where “memos” and insults are weapons of distraction, that won’t likely be enough. Even if Democrats take control of Congress in November, most Republicans—like most juries in run-of-the-mill criminal cases—will demand significant evidence of an underlying crime as a motive for the obstruction before turning on President Trump, much less voting in the Senate to remove him from office.

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How CPR saved a young woman’s life (it could save yours, too) – TODAY.com

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Alter Books For Sale

The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies

Amazon

“Jonathan Alter’s “The Center Holds” offers an elegant, intelligent, crisply constructed account of President Obama’s second two years in the White House and his quiet march to a second term. It will be required reading for any serious student of the Obama presidency, present or future.” The Washington Post

The Promise: President Obama, Year One

Amazon

“Gives us a new perspective on the 44th president by providing a detailed look at his decision-making. . .and a keen sense of what it’s like to work in his White House. Alter uses his considerable access to the president and his aides to give us an informed look at No. 44’s management style.” Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope

Amazon

“Alter’s account has a refreshing buoyancy, not unlike its protagonist…describing Roosevelt’s missteps as honestly as his triumphs, it succeeds in bringing a remarkable man back to life.” Ted Widmer, The New York Times Book Review

Between the Lines: A View Inside American Politics, People, and Culture

Amazon

“A journalist, rather than a pundit, Alter made sure he had the best seat in the house for the transformation of the political and media worlds over the past three decades, and he has recorded those changes with his trademark wisdom and humanity.” Jeffrey Toobin