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.
By Jonathan Alter – July 18 at 6:15 PM
Jonathan Alter is an MSNBC analyst and columnist for the Daily Beast.
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.
QUID PRO QUO
The Opening Argument in the Trial of Donald J. Trump
03.18.18 9:02 PM ET
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.
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.
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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The Death of Newsweek
The U.S. is losing something as the publication disintegrates—a magazine with guts and heart.
Newsweek is in the news—raided by the police last month as part of a probe into the owners’ shady finances, then subjected to a crude purge on Monday, when the owners sacked the editors and reporters who tried to write about the scandal. This was the cinematic coda to a decade of collapse. Whatever its shortcomings, the country lost something with the demise of classic Newsweek—a magazine with guts and heart.
After years of survivable financial struggles, the magazine—founded in 1933—cratered with the economy in 2008, was sold by the Washington Post Co. for $1 in 2010, and sold again in 2013 by Barry Diller’s IAC to a shadowy company called International Business Times. In the last five years, Newsweek produced some strong journalism and plenty of clickbait before becoming a painful embarrassment to anyone who toiled there in its golden age. Matt Cooper, who also worked at the old Newsweek, resigned from the latest incarnation Monday with a letter saying that in three decades in journalism, “I’ve never seen more reckless leadership.” Ed Kosner, editor in the late 1970s, wrote on Facebook Tuesday, “Time to begin always making the distinction between our Real Newsweek of sainted memory and this shameful Fake Newsweek.”
I went to work at Newsweek 35 years ago last month. Sometime in the early 1990s, when I wasn’t yet 40, the Village Voice joked that I’d have to be carried out prone—and they weren’t far wrong. I stayed for nearly three decades as a national-affairs writer, media critic, and political columnist. Many of my colleagues also worked there for the better part of their lives—unheard of nowadays. We bitched a lot but loved the place. Journalists are sometimes compared to the horses in Black Beauty—all we want is a nice master, a little hay to lie down on, and a sugar cube once in a while. We got that and a lot more from Katharine Graham, now immortalized by Meryl Streep in the film The Post, who until her death in 2001 was the best proprietor imaginable. While more publicly identified with The Washington Post, she would hold monthly editorial lunches at our plush headquarters at 444 Madison Avenue (and later 251 W. 57th) in New York, where travel and expense accounts were generous and even researchers often had their own offices.
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