WASHINGTON — More than two months after the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump began, you can break down the entire fight into four simple questions.
One, did the president of the United States ask another country to interfere in the upcoming 2020 election — against possible Democratic rival Joe Biden?
(The answer sure appears to be a yes, whether it was in the partial transcript of that July 25 call with Ukraine’s president or Trump’s own words on Oct. 3: “Well, I would think that, if they were honest about it, they’d start a major investigation into the Bidens. It’s a very simple answer.”)
Two, did Trump and his administration withhold military aid and a White House visit to compel Ukraine to start this investigation into Joe Biden and his son?
Three, were those actions — first the ask of interference, then the temporary withholding of military aid — an abuse of the president’s powers?
(Here’s the president’s oath of office: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”)
And four — and most importantly — do those actions amount to impeachable offenses?
(The Constitution says the following offenses are impeachable: “treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors.”)
So forget the poll numbers and where each party’s base is (though that will ultimately determine whether Trump remains in office). And forget all of the questions about procedure and fairness.
The entire impeachment saga comes down to this question: Did the president violate his oath of office and his stewardship of the executive branch by asking a foreign leader to investigate a political rival – and by trying to compel the foreign leader to do so?
That’s the question almost everyone was asking two months ago, when the impeachment inquiry began.
And it’s the question that everyone still needs to ask today.
The challenge for Democrats, however, is that there are two different impeachment conversations going on — 1) the substance and 2) everything else.
And right now, Republicans have succeeded in turning the conversation to the latter.
Impeachment inquiry update
“This evening, members of the House Intelligence Committee are expected to begin reviewing a report on the panel's findings in the impeachment inquiry,” per NBC’s Geoff Bennett.
“The Intel committee is expected to approve the report tomorrow — likely on a party-line vote — setting it up for consideration by the House Judiciary Committee, which is then expected to draft and consider articles of impeachment,” Bennett adds.
Also, the House Judiciary Committee this week begins taking the lead in the impeachment inquiry, with the panel holding its first hearing on Wednesday (on impeachment’s historical and constitutional basis).
And Bennett says that the White House last night informed House Democrats that it’s refusing to participate in Wednesday’s impeachment hearing, but it left open the possibility of participating in future proceedings.
Elizabeth Warren’s decline
Maybe the biggest 2020 storyline in the past week has been Elizabeth Warren’s decline or stall in the polls – both nationally and in the early states.
On Sunday, the Washington Post attributed Warren’s current situation to her struggles over health care.
“The irony is that a candidate whose political identity has been built in part on her reputation as a policy wonk — a potential president who boasts of having a plan for nearly every challenge facing everyday Americans — has been tripped up by a policy issue that has dominated politics and defined her party for years,” the Post said.
More: “In some ways, the health-care debate was uniquely suited to entangle Warren, who as a senator had never made the issue a central element of her worldview.”
2020 Vision: Lessons from Steve Bullock’s exit
This morning, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announced he was suspending his presidential campaign, NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard and Amanda Golden report.
“While there were many obstacles we could not have anticipated when entering this race, it has become clear that in this moment, I won’t be able to break through to the top tier of this still-crowded field of candidates,” Bullock said in a statement.
There are three lessons from Bullock’s inability to break through.
One: Late entries have had a difficult time getting attention and name recognition to register in the polls; Bullock got into the race on May 14.
Two: In all of those polls — despite the level of attention and name recognition — there was little appeal for a two-term Democratic governor from a red state whose campaign platform was arguably more liberal than Barack Obama’s in 2012. (A sign of how coastal today’s Democratic Party has become?)
And three: Once you start not qualifying for the debates, it’s over.
On the campaign trail today
Joe Biden continues on his tour through Iowa… Elizabeth Warren holds a town hall in Iowa City, Iowa… Michael Bennet also is in the Hawkeye State… Pete Buttigieg and Cory Booker stump in South Carolina… Andrew Yang holds town halls in New Hampshire… Amy Klobuchar appears on “The View”… And Julian Castro is in California.
Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds
Joe Biden kicked off his eight-day bus tour in Iowa, and on Sunday, per NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor, he touted “Biden Care” and met with voters in a smaller setting because the campaign believes “Biden thrives at winning over voters when he has one-on-one contact with them.” Sotomayor also reports how Biden sold his message that he will expand Obamacare: “We are going to add to it not, because Barack is the guy who broke it all through helped pass it, but provide for a public option so people who in fact, want to, want to either give up their employer based insurance or whatever insurance they have they can in fact buy into a Medicare-like option, not required, you're not mandated,” Biden said.
Pete Buttigieg attended a mass in North Carolina on Sunday, but when the mass turned to a conversation on poverty, Buttigieg didn’t speak to many voters of color – a group he has yet to make strides with, per NBC’s Priscilla Thompson: “Notably most of the black people who attended service this morning cleared out after church as more white folks filed in. This shift was noticeable as the crowd went from being mostly black to almost entirely white.” When asked by NBC’s Shaquille Brewster if he felt he was making strides in the black community, Buttigieg said, “I do” and “I have a responsibility as a candidate for office to reach out to black voters who may yet not feel that they know me and I think that the more we do that outreach, the better that relationship will grow.”
Data Download: The number of the day is … $52 million
That’s how much Michael Bloomberg has spent on presidential TV ads so far, according to Advertising Analytics.
That includes $15 million just for the week from December 4 through 9 — with ads airing in 96 markets.
ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss
The Supreme Court today will hear its first Second Amendment case in nearly a decade.
President Trump will reimpose steel and aluminum tariffs on Brazil and Argentina.
The London Bridge attack last week could reset the upcoming “Brexit election” with a renewed focus on terrorism.
Lisa Page is now speaking with reporters.
And Amy Klobuchar is up with a new TV ad on prescription-drug prices, per NBC’s Ali Vitali.
Trump Agenda: Zelenskiy’s tough challenge
New proposed rule changes from the Trump administration could cause millions to lose access to food stamps.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has a tough challenge: Cleaning up corruption without angering Trump.
The New York Times profiles Trump attorney Jay Sekulow.
2020: I’m gonna set it straight, this global Watergate
Amy Klobuchar says that the impeachment probe has uncovered “a global Watergate.”
Could black voters be Joe Biden’s ticket to the Democratic nomination?
Pete Buttigieg spent part of the weekend with a racially diverse congregation to discuss poverty and civil rights — as he struggles for tracking with black voters.
Some voters are confused by Biden’s “no malarkey” slogan.
Trump’s re-election team is working on how to position Mike Pence as a surrogate.
Joe Sestak is also out of the presidential race.
The Washington Post takes a look at Valerie Plame’s congressional run.