The “Badly Written & Reseached Disaster” Edition

Listen to this episode

S1: This ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership.

S2: Hello, doctor, the Slate Political Gabfest for December 5th, twenty nineteen the badly written and received disaster edition.

S3: I did a lot about Scarra. I’m in Washington, D.C.. Joining me from New Haven, Connecticut, from the campus of Yale University and the mindspace of The New York Times magazine is Emily Bazelon. Hello, Emily.

S4: Oh, I like that division of my life. That was good. Thank you.

S5: And then back from back from somewhere. He just got back from somewhere. I don’t know where he’s been. Is John DICKERSON of CBS 60 Minutes. Hello, John. We haven’t seen you in a while.

S6: Hi. I know. I know. I think I’ll. I’m not going to tell you. But all the memory runs are a shade, so.

S7: Yeah, well, we’ll know soon enough. Whoa, whoa. I don’t want to scoops scoop myself, but I’m.

S8: I couldn’t be happier to be back. I’m sorry that the the international travel did not work out.

S9: So I’m happy to be back on today’s gabfest. The Judiciary Committee takes up the impeachment investigation. Where is that investigation going? Will the president be impeached before Christmas? Then Kamala Harris drops out of the presidential race. Why did such a promising campaign fall so hard, so fast? And what does it mean now that she’s out? And then we’ll talk to Ruth Marcus about Supreme Ambition, her new book about Brett Kavanaugh and his Supreme Court nomination and hearings and. Much more. And the conservative ambition to take over the courts. Plus, we’ll have cocktail chatter.

S10: Impeachment has stepped forward from the sexy theatrical fact gathering stage to the bazz Loni legal phase.

S4: So this week, the House God save us all.

S10: The House Intelligence Committee sent a report over to the House Judiciary Committee talking about what what the president is accused of doing and how that is impeachable. And the Judiciary Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on Wednesday about whether the president should be impeached with three constitutional scholars saying yay! And one constitutional scholar saying nay. So let’s consider this whole landscape. And let’s start with the import of the kind of facts in the report that the Intelligence Committee has gathered. John, the kind of fact gathering phase of this seems to be largely over. What in your mind is the the import of the report that was created in the end, the kind of some of this past month or so of public testimony is this has has a very strong, persuasive, clear case been made that the public has a handle on it and that Congress has a handle on the Republican position is all over the lot.

S11: Some people say he did nothing wrong. Other people say he did something wrong, but it’s not impeachable. That is still after 11 weeks, still up in the air. But in terms of the majority’s report, I mean, the basic claim here is the president abused his office. He used the powers of the office that are given to him for himself. Now, there is also the question of whether that can be defined as a bribe, which is helpful because the word bribery is in the actual constitution, which just draws you a little bit closer to the definition of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

S8: And then there’s the question of obstruction of justice, particularly in with respect to saying basically he’s not going to answer any subpoena at all of Congress in any form. Does that amount to an end to an obstruction of justice? But the basic biggest thrust is the central question is whether he abused his power.

S7: So that’s I’ll stop there.

S10: Emily, there was all this legal testimony from various constitutional scholars. I’m sure all all cronies and buddies of yours. What do you think the import of that testimony, which was much less watched. And I think much less explosive certainly in the public presentation than the facts testimony of a few weeks ago.

S12: OK. So all four of them, including Jonathan Turley, who is the Republican’s expert, either forcefully said that the president’s conduct is impeachable or in Turley’s case, refused to say that it wasn’t. So that’s interesting. If you think that this a bribe or scheme or plot, a pressure campaign happened, then legal experts are saying like, yes, this is an impeachable offense. And I think you can also just think of it as like Trump is trying to steal the election. If he did this and that’s an abuse of power, that the system should have some way to reprimand and show is wrong. So that other people, including Trump, don’t do it in the future. The second question is one about process. And this is where Turley was really on Trump’s side in arguing that the process has been unfair to him, that it’s been too fast and that because it’s been too fast. We haven’t heard from key witnesses. I think there’s a really interesting question about speed. And we talked about this with Jamal last week, and Jamal kind of talked me into thinking like, yeah, they are moving too quickly. But that’s different from a question about fair due process. The obvious response to Turley’s point that Trump is being treated unfairly is that the witnesses who are missing Bolton, Pompeo, Mulvany, couple other people aren’t there because the White House is refusing to cooperate, is utterly preventing all the witnesses from complying with subpoenas, is refusing to turn over any documents. And so I just like I just literally don’t understand how you can say it’s deeply unfair that the public and Congress hasn’t heard from these key witnesses, deeply unfair to the president, who is the figure who is preventing all of this information from reaching Congress and the public. That just seems like just totally contradictory to me.

S13: Or you have to at least acknowledge that if you’re going to be saying this is moving too quickly. And also, by the way, the other reason is an argument. Another refutation of that argument about speed is. Well, first of all, a that’s a political point. It’s not a legal plane in terms of interpreting the Constitution. B, the rebuttal is it has to be adjudicated quickly, because what’s at issue here is, as you put it, trying to steal the next election. You’re gonna get that. You got that figured out because the election itself can’t be a remedy. Elect reelecting him or not re-electing him isn’t a proper sanction for some. Who’s trying to meddle in that future election?

S1: Right. And look, Giuliani is like flying off to Ukraine as we speak to go try to meet with these ousted prosecutors who claim to have evidence that would be helpful to Trump. I mean, it’s literally still happening.

S10: Yeah. One of the things that’s so troubling about this entire process is the kabuki ness of it, which I put 98 percent of the blame for on the Republicans who are I think are not in any sense being honest or distinguishing themselves in their public service, that they’re that their behavior is hypocritical and and cynical and entirely partisan.

S14: And if the shoe were on the other foot, they would be full of outrage. There. There’s no way in which they actually believe the bullshit that they’re saying about this president, about his behavior and whether this is legitimate for a president to do. But there is this way in which there’s this there’s this kind of state genius about where, you know, all these these elements and that it’s very grave and that impeachment is going to happen in this way when we all know what the outcome is. We all know the outcome is that he will be impeached by a you know, entirely, you know, all Democrats or all. But a couple will vote for it. No Republicans will vote for it. Then in the Senate, there will be a Senate trial, which will be highly theatrical and staged in such a way as to kind of try to embarrass Democrats because Republicans control it. And at the end of that, he will not be convicted. And so the I find that the kind of requisitioning of the founding fathers, the appeals to the Constitution. It’s obviously necessary. It’s obviously important. Like this is a process that is that is baked into the constitution. It’s the wet the remedy that we have. But the fact that this legislature is actually unable to carry out its duties in a responsible way because one party refuses to do it is so depressing. And it and it kind of makes the whole thing feel makes the whole thing feel stupid and pointless, which is totally.

S11: I just knew exactly what the president’s defenders would exactly how they would like you to react. So if the Republicans were brave in defending the president as he is himself, they would open by saying, look, he’s innocent. He wasn’t in town when the crime you’re saying was committed took place. He’s like, it’s open and shut case. Instead, they made they I’m ranking member Collins gave an entire opening statement, didn’t mention the word Ukraine, so that by talking about the process and all that. So the idea is that the way the best defense is to make this seem like a total morass and to tire everyone out, I. Now, that isn’t that doesn’t.

S10: Well, I’m not saying that. I’m not saying that. I think that’s a wrap. I’m saying that it feels because one party is acting in bad faith. It feels pointless. Yeah.

S12: Not that it’s not the no but that pointless. Think about history. It’s not pointless. But like what it’s when we look back at this in 25 or 50 years, do we want to think that the country turned a blind eye to this kind of behavior? Like do we want to think that there were no consequences? No. We want something on the record that this is unacceptable, something if you think it happened.

S11: So but so that’s from a tactical standpoint, they’re trying to get you to feel the way you are. David, even if so, that’s one thing. Secondly, Emily’s exactly right. The idea is that one is supposed to do one’s duty regardless of whether it seems boring or seems enervating or whatever. And going back to first principles, when the entire question here is whether the president lived up or fell short of the standard of his office, going back to figure out what the original standard of behavior was seems crucial, even though it means going back to the founders. We do it all the time. So that’s not that crazy. And then the other thing is you never know what comes up and what can be found in investigations. Lots of investigations seem pointless until they don’t. And because this taking place in an election year, this is outside of the formal duty they’re supposed to do as members of the of the House. But it’s a really useful thing to have an investigation for the purposes of exonerating the president or for the purposes of condemning him before he’s up for re-election about the way he does business. Does his short circuiting of the entire apparatus of foreign policy lead to better outcomes? And is it done for a good reason that’s consistent with American values? Or is are his short circuit things hiring his private lawyer to go basically to U.S. foreign policy? Is that a danger to the to the country’s super useful thing to have in an election year when you’re thinking about electing you guys are totally when you have no Justice Department investigation whatsoever?

S1: No, except the indictments of lab partners and that other guy eager for him.

S10: Of course, that’s what you guys are saying is, of course, absolutely right. And I and I you know, I am not. This is not making me sympathetic to President Trump in any sense and is not making me you know, it doesn’t make me deplore what the Democrats are doing it. It just makes me deeply deep. He said that without that, that one of the results of impeachment is an X is that it is exposed. And maybe this is what maybe this is what I’m so depressed about is exposed the rottenness of the American political system. We’ve looked in the foundation. The foundation is cracked. We have looked at the you know, the beams and the beams are riddled with termites. This system, which is supposed to be a buttress against demagogues, buttress against cynical people being personally corrupt and being bought by foreign powers. In fact, because because of how the system is broken down, it isn’t. And what the president is going to come out of this impeachment with, in my mind is likely no change in the underlying kind of political dynamics of the state of the country. And with a playbook about how you handle an attack on you and ways to continue to lie and mislead and cheat and suppress the ability of Congress and the courts to do anything about you so that the result is gonna be the ineffectuality is going to be shown. Yes. History will vindicate. Well, actually, history really won’t vindicate because history public enemy written by the horror show people who are who are currently in power. But hopefully history will one day vindicate this. But but that doesn’t that the system is going to be weaker in 2020 than it is in 2019, or at least it will see the weaknesses more visibly.

S1: Here’s one thought, historical thought to throw in here, which doesn’t really contradict your point, but is useful. And I’m now borrowing from my friend Beverly Gage, who’s a history professor at Yale. And one thing she has been pointing out to me is that Nixon’s resignation did not actually change the fundamental political dynamics either. Like it turned out that, you know, it didn’t take very long for the Republicans to come back into power. And the underlying concerns of the American electorate transcended the problems of corruption that were specific to Nixon. Now, you can argue that’s because he resigned and it was sort of like, you know, a boil that was lanced and that if the opposite happens now, we will have a different kind of return to the fundamental concerns that is much more troubling for the constitutional structure. But it is interesting to think that that was true then. And the country kind of continued and, you know, went on to a better era of governmental reform in the 1970s.

S11: I think if you’re a Republican and you’re hearing your your views, David, you would basically say, well, that’s what it felt like when when Bill Clinton was allowed to get away with what happened at that point. So. So I think so. That’s the first point. I think the second point is what’s what’s objectively different in this case than in the Clinton cases when Clinton is being impeached. His approval record was quite high and got higher. In this case, you do have Donald Trump, 70 percent. The country thinks he did something wrong, which I still think presents an interesting political question for Republicans. There are some Republicans who are in districts and in states where if 70 percent your voters think the president did something wrong, it’s politically risky for you to say, even recognizing the strength of the Republican base, for you to say his phone call was perfect. And so what? How will that tension manifest? His message manifest itself with various people. But I would say just one of it. So 70 percent think he did something wrong. And and the support for impeachment, whether it’s at 48, 49, 50 or 51, is higher than it was under Clinton or George W. Bush, who, by the way, we should all remember President Trump would asked for George W. Bush to be impeached for the for the Iraq war. And then the final point I would make is I think people felt a certain sense of despair that you feel, David, before the twenty eighteen elections and a lot of those people felt nothing’s going to change and the system is is a mess. Others worked to elect Democratic candidates, elected a bunch of them. They took control of the House. And now Democrats are doing things in the House that those people who felt so frustrated are happy to see happen. So with respect to progress, those people would feel progress had been made since 2017 by electing a house that could at least raise these questions and do other things. So even in our short rate, recent space of time, people who have felt the way you have got an outcome that that improve the system somewhat by having house the house go into Democratic hands.

S5: John, so it’s clear the house is on a fast track to get impeachment done to impeach the president before the end of the year and that there will be a Senate trial shortly thereafter. What for each party are the pros and cons of this pretty rapid approach?

S11: Well, the pros for Republicans is that it moves quickly and they just say, oh my gosh, it’s moving so fast. This isn’t being done in a serious way. You’ve been trying to railroad him from the beginning and it gives them a process, a series of process arguments they can make, which which allow them to not have to wrestle with this basic tension, which is did the president do anything wrong? And if he did a little something wrong, then that then once you pull that sweater thread, it creates a set of problems for them. You know, Democrats have a tricky problem here, which is that they’re trying to get this done quickly because, I mean, for a variety reasons, including the fact that a number of Democratic presidential candidates are gonna be stuck in the Senate, unable to talk and get out of their chair for January. And I think that Nancy Pelosi has always been worried that the country has a limited attention span for this, limited passion for this, and that she’s got a bunch of members in districts that are close who want to get back to the business of campaigning and talking about issues. So she wants to have been able to say we did a professional investigation. We voted more in sorrow than in anger. And then we got back to business. And the downside for them is that they that that takes too long. Basically, the president can say, I’m trying to do work here and Democrats are just, you know, getting in my way.

S9: Gabfests listeners, our annual conundrum show, it’s going to be live at the Fox Theater in Oakland, California, on December 18th. We are fired up to come to Oakland in a couple of weeks. We have a special guest, Adam Savage of Mythbusters is going to join us to solve conundrums for you. And there are still tickets available. Go to Slate, dot com slash live to get those tickets and you can still tweet conundrums to us. Use the hashtag conundrum at Slate Gabfest. We would love to see or conundrums. There’s so, so many good ones.

S15: John, I have they’re all gone through. Oh, you did. You went through them. So fun. Just so a couple we might we might or might not deal with.

S5: Would you rather lose your memory or all of your creativity? That’s a great question. How do you tell your best friend that the woman he introduced you to with the love of his life and his future wife appears to be a disaster waiting to happen? That is like such a real life problem. All of us face that. No idea what the right answer is, but maybe Adam Savage can can bust that myth. You can pick one member of the Beatles as your ally in the zombie apocalypse. Who do you pick? That is a crazy question. First of all, a bunch of the Beatles are dead. They’re probably already zombies. I wouldn’t even work.

S16: I mean, I’m interested in the question. I’m interested. But is that just like which members? I don’t know, you know. Do you like. I mean, I don’t know.

S6: Well, I know. But don’t don’t eat your seed corn anyway.

S5: Go to Slate dot coms less live. Get tickets for our Conundrum Show, December 18th in Oakland, California. Kamala Harris dropped out of the presidential race this week, months before the first voting. She is by far the highest profile candidate to leave the Democratic race, although she wasn’t even the only one who dropped out this week. Steve Bullock, the Montana governor, dropped out as well, leaving us with only.

S17: Oh, I didn’t know that. That’s about all right.

S9: There are only 10 to the 14th power number of candidates still running, though. Still plenty, plenty more to to to fall away. Harris had rocketed near the top of the polls several months ago with her attack on Joe Biden about busing in the first, I think, was the first Democratic debate, but has been sagging ever since. So so why, Emily, did she need to drop out and why did her campaign flag? I think those are two separate question. One is sort of a practical question, the other is like what went wrong with her message or her how she conveyed it?

S12: Well, she was running out of money. That was what she said. So there’s the answer to the practical question why did her campaign flag? I basically subscribe to the theory that it was never completely clear what she stood for and that there’s a kind of triangulating quality to her politics that proved a problem that she couldn’t really surmount. And I wasn’t particularly surprised by that when I was reporting on her when she was running for the Senate in California and 2016. I saw some of that. And I think there is something about politics for a lot of people that tends to feed that. And at the time, I was particularly aware that she was the attorney general of California. She was one of two black women elected to statewide office.

S1: And I think that challenge has kind of informed her approach to politics and the guardedness that and her kind of tendency to play it safe a little bit as a senator. She was a bolder liberal by far. Then when she was attorney general or district attorney in San Francisco. But as a presidential candidate, I just don’t think she like found her thing. I also think that there are some sexism and kind of latent skepticism about black candidates that was coming into play and that seemed to be affecting some of the people who might have been her supporters. I was really struck by this point that instead Herndon, who is a politics governor at The New York Times, made in a on the daily The New York Times podcast recently. He said he was talking to black male voters and they were skeptical about whether she could win and whether they wanted to support her. And that’s a small percentage of the whole. And that doesn’t excuse or like explain the white people who are flocking to people to judge, etc. But it did make me have some greater understanding of why Biden’s support with black voters has been so strong, even though Harris seemed like she should be a formidable alternative.

S14: John, I find her. I mean, I just have been confounded because she she’s almost like I’m trying to think of it. This is something from physics where she occupies every space all at once. Like she’s a woman, she’s progressive, she’s moderate, she’s a woman of color. Like she she was like so everywhere that she wasn’t anywhere in some ways. And this seems to be an electorate that really wants. They really want their candidates to be kind of really very well defined. And the that broadness that she represented came to be unclear and unhelpful. And I I I don’t. Yeah it’s you do feel like it running in nineteen ninety two about a black woman running 1:41. Probably problems but running and running in 2008, 2000, 16, that would have been a better space to be in.

S8: Well what you describe I believe is this is true that 538, when they looked at the candidates at the beginning of this race, did some Venn diagramming. And and she, I think, had the best Venn diagram in terms of capturing and ad to end having constituencies in all of the different groups that make up the Democratic coalition. And so by that measurement, they were they were bullish on her as a candidate who had at least had the upside opportunity to reach into all the different groups. We’re engaging in two things that we all recognize are really hard, a, trying to capture a moving picture of a dynamic race. Yes. Because who knows what the hell this race is. And nevertheless, candidates and voters and donors and all that have to kind of try and figure out what the race is. But we all recognize that this is a hard thing to do. And and then also a corollary to that or an offshoot of that is it’s very hard to tell what what really did a candidate. And I think having said all of that as a preamble, what Emily says, I mean, to be both a woman and a woman of color is those are tricky. Those are hard things in politics, even in a in a party that cares about or I should say doesn’t or says it doesn’t care about those issues as impediments to the office. One of the figures that the supports that I think is the polling that has shown the Democrats, when you ask them, would we do vote for a woman for president, they say, absolutely, I would. And then when asked if they think their neighbor would, who is also Democrat, they would say, oh, no, they wouldn’t. A lot of that informs the way in which people think about candidates who don’t fit, you know, the traditional or I guess quote unquote, traditional mold.

S1: And finally, the element of her record as a prosecutor didn’t help her in the way that it seemed like it could or should have. And I think part of what happened was that she just got dunked on on lefty Twitter and among young people, and she didn’t have a good answer to it. Like, I think she could have bounced back from that. But she overclaim tried to position herself as a progressive prosecutor, which she really wasn’t as a D.A. and or isn’t the attorney general. And I still feel like she could have just run on it and figured it out. But instead, they kind of froze. Which goes to the calculated, guarded, like not very nimble problem I think she has sometimes had.

S10: So the Harris fade or the Harris banishment and Elizabeth Warren’s recent struggles suggest a retreat from women candidates in the race and of course, club, which are also not doing well. Tulsi Gabbard not at the top anywhere. And there’s this seems to be the sense. I don’t know how to describe it except as a polling sense that Democrats feel they need to stick with a good old white guy, even if in Mayor Pete’s case, the good old white guy is young and gay and inexperienced, that’s still safer than a woman. What is up with that? Emily, RMI overreading it. I mean, I don’t know. I don’t think you’re overeating. I mean, just let let me put phrases a different way. I’m agitating myself as somebody who does not wish for Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders to be the Democratic nominee. I’m very agitated by their continuing strength. Should I be agitated, John? Or is it? Is there any chance like this, this this kind of retreat to the white guy will fade?

S6: Best to ask this of the white guy. I think you have some other white guy. You. I think you have some intersectionality and some challenges here which are hard to pull apart. Bernie Sanders has a committed, devoted following that is impenetrable. And is Bernie Sanders specific. And so that’s a kind of you got him locked in around that which which doesn’t necessarily have to be people of ascribed various things to that group. But it that’s a kind of pro Bernie group that’s going to stick with him till the end. Then with Biden, you have some electability power there.

S8: He was at 49 percent in our CBS. His last poll in African-Americans, 49 percent support. The closest I think was was maybe Harris and she was 34 points away. So to the extent that Harrison Booker Booker was just quite slightly behind Harris, they were both making the case with African-Americans that essentially you need somebody who’s gonna be able to advocate for African-American views. But even in their own party, African-Americans liked something about Joe Biden more than them. So what’s my point? My point is that electability there or familiarity or connection to Obama or something is putting Biden in the first position with those voters and not identity, age, color or any of those issues. And then with Bhuta George, I think you have a you could potentially have an a a kind of fleed or moderation from people who worry that with Sanders and Warren in the initial kind of heavy lift way that this race got out of the gate, that that’s where some of that is kind of the moderate energy of the party is going.

S13: So I guess my point is that there are other factors at play here, and I don’t know the amplitude of those of those factors. In answering your question, David, which is is the obvious one, though, which is that basically it looks like a white field here at the end.

S1: I mean, one way to think about this is that Biden and Buddah judge are standing on the policy ground. That’s the most popular like it’s not crazy. I think that that makes them more electable, particularly on their health care policy answers. I also shout out to our question, I guess, about Biden’s new ad about Trump being laughed at around the world, which I thought was quite effective. And I found it such a relief to have a Democrat taking straight aim at the Republican opponent and kind of leapfrogging ahead to the general election. And in that context, like looking like a strong alternative. I worry about Joe Biden’s propensity to self-destruct, though, you know, as I think I mentioned last week, now that I’m thinking of him as having a stuttering problem, I feel more generous still. I don’t know. David, is that when you say that you really don’t want him to be the candidate? Are you worried that he’s gonna blow it or do you think he’d be about president?

S10: I think there’s a high likelihood that he would blow it. I think he is. You know, he is prone to gaffes. I think clearly age is wearing on him. But more importantly, I think he would be. A bad president for the future of the Democratic Party. I think he doesn’t come with ideas. He is. He is. He will. He would be extremely lackluster. I think Republicans, he would not bring a kind of aggressive, enthusiastic, buoyant agenda to the presidency that would galvanize Democrats and would would carry forth for years to come. Whereas I think the other candidates. I mean, all of the other top candidates, including Sanders. But Sanders, but a judge and Warren would bring it dynamism and energy that would galvanize the Democratic Party and make it a stronger, more effective party. Overall, I think there there was a piece maybe a couple of months ago where someone was writing about the problem with Biden is that he could win the presidency and that would be great. And I would, of course, vote for him 100 times out of 100 against against Donald Trump. But that the Democrat that it’s very likely the Democrats would have a huge electoral set of losses in the years to come afterwards because he he could not hold the party together, make it a meaningful and energetic party. That’s my real concern.

S1: What if he’s more for the future? What if you pick someone like.

S10: I don’t even ever want to hear anybody say who their running mate is. It makes no difference. Nobody cares about anyone’s running mate. Their running mate doesn’t set the agenda. The running mate doesn’t define the party. None of that matters. The president matters. The running mate doesn’t matter, right, John?

S13: Well, only if you’re Lyndon Johnson and John Kennedy in 92, in 1960, which is to say, yes, you’re right. But there is you. You you can’t say never, but. But basically. Yeah. And and obviously in these times of polarization and partisanship, it would be even less likely to help.

S5: Slate plus members, you get bonus segments on the gab fest and on other Slate podcasts, those other ones which are also totally solid, good, often great if you go to slaked complex gabfests. Plus you can join today, become a member today and you will get this bonus segment we are going to definitively answer. Finally, answer the question of whether it is better to give or to receive. I know you’ve been wondering about that as you’ve been planning your your holiday season, perhaps buying presence or anticipating the presence you’re going to get. Now you’re going into the right answer, but whether you should plan on giving more or receiving more.

S14: We are joined today by beloved gabfests regular Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post as teased repeatedly on previous Gabfest episodes. Ruth has a new book out. It’s called Supreme Ambition. Brett Kavanaugh, the conservative Takeover Tarty been reviewed widely and brilliantly. It’s been reviewed, in fact, by the president himself. Ruth Marcus book. He tweeted is a badly written and researched. That’s him. Research disaster. So many incorrect facts. Fake news, just like The Washington Post. Congratulations on that five star review, Ruth. So I have two opening questions. One, did that tweet do anything for sales? And two, why did your book get under the president’s skin?

S18: Well, it’s very interesting that the book got under the president’s skin because at the time he declared it badly written and received it was actually not yet publicly available for him not to read. But and it’s also was also a surprise that it got under his skin, because in a sense, the book is about Donald Trump’s greatest triumph, which is his ability to reshape the federal judiciary generally and to finally achieve the conservative dream of seizing control pretty firmly of the Supreme Court. So I think he should have embraced it. But it did help with some sales. And I was particularly struck by his use of the word received because I thought it rhymed with something that might have been on the president’s mind bleached.

S10: OK. Teached Beach.

S19: I have a question, Ruth, about your wonderful opening, which which really is both fun to read and regulatory. You report that Justice Kennedy, when Neil Gorsuch was retiring in 2017, requested a private meeting with the president so that she could put forward Brett Kavanaugh as a future nominee if Kennedy himself retired.

S20: So, I mean, first of all, this is such an interesting bit of reporting. And second of all, like, what do we make of this? Is this perfectly fine that Kennedy is making this suggestion like he? Why not? Or do we think there’s something squirrelly about a justice?

S4: Is there something sort of quid quid pro quo? A-ha. Thought we had gotten rid of that word.

S20: Yeah, well, it does feel like a trade that essentially Kennedy is suggesting implicitly. And I’m sure not explicitly. Huh.

S19: Maybe you should consider another former clerk of mine since Gorsuch and Kavanaugh both clerked for Kennedy, and maybe that will make me more amenable to stepping down.

S18: Well, a really great question and really great point. And before I answer it, I want to actually share with the gabfests audience that gabfests. I’m so pleased to be here in part because actually being a gab fest irregular was extremely helpful in the production of this book because there was more than one person who I called up, some of whom were not necessarily inclined to talk to me, who said I wouldn’t talk to you.

S4: But I hear you on gabfests. And I would say something like, I think that John DICKERSON or I think that Emily Bazelon is really smart to talk like this. So thank you, Gabfests.

S16: Why the wise listener crashing down a bomb?

S4: I now I’m in trouble and all the hard questions are coming, OK, about the Kennedy intervention.

S18: It was a really, really interesting moment from the White House point of view, as you suggest, Emily. They desperately, desperately, desperately wanted to secure Justice Kennedy’s nomination and would do really whatever it took to make him comfortable in thinking that if he stepped down, his seat would be in capable and responsible hands. And so one way they did that was by nominating Justice Gorsuch, who had been a clerk, but not quite a favorite clerk of Justice Kennedy’s. Then comes the Gorsuch swearing in. Justice Kennedy asks for a few moments with the president, and he mentioned, hey, there is somebody who’s not on your Supreme Court list, who’s a former clerk of mine, who you should really consider this guy, Brett Kavanaugh, who, of course, the president had heard of and had refused to have on his list, primarily because he was viewed by the president as a Bushie judge cabinet. Now, Justice Kavanaugh had not only worked for President George W. Bush, had not only been nominated to the federal bench by George W. Bush, but he had actually married George W. Bush’s secretary, who was something like a surrogate daughter to the Bushes. So he was the ultimate Bushie swamp creature. And Trump really didn’t want to have any of it. But once Justice Kennedy made the suggestion, once they were really eager to get Justice Kennedy dislodged from that seat so they could fill it with their own person. The president started to say, hey, who’s this? Brett Kavanaugh, a guy. Lo and behold, justice. Few months after that, Brett Kavanaugh’s name turns up on a list yes, unveiled on the very day of a Federalist Society convention in November.

S11: Just on the ON THE LIST point, we explain to people why that was so notable. With respect to the timing and also the the people on the list relative to what Republicans had done in the past. When asked during the campaign, you know, the kind of person they would elect to the Supreme Court and why that was so important for Trump.

S18: The thinking was and the president had obviously been thinking about it and raising it with people beforehand. Then candidate to do this very unusual thing of coming up with a list, because it was a list and only a list that was public that would really satisfy social conservative evangelical voters that they could trust. This thrice divorced once abortion rights supporting New York former Democrat named Donald Trump with the incredible power of filling a Supreme Court seat as Trump thrice divorced, thrice married to Ruth.

S5: When I think back on Brett Cabinet and his appearance on the Supreme Court, the number one thing I think about, of course, is Christine Bobby Ford. And there was it was extraordinary hearings. And when was that? 2018.

S18: It was the fall of followed when 18 was on September 27, 2013. Yes.

S9: So looking back at that, what is your sense about why after this incredibly persuasive testimony from from Christine Bothy Ford about a sexual assault that she said Brett Kavanaugh committed against her? Why did Kavanaugh survive and pass through so easily?

S18: Well, not entirely. I don’t think he would call it easily. I think he would call it painfully. But he he got through with a vote or two to spare. I think the answer to the question is very clear, and it’s really embodied in the title of this book. It’s called Supreme Ambition, not just because it’s about Brett Kavanaugh’s ambition, which really appeared at a remarkably young age shortly after he graduated from law school. That’s his ambition. But the book is about a greater ambition, which is the thwarted for 30 years ambition that goes back to the failed nomination of Robert Bork, goes back to the somewhat significant disappointment that Bork’s eventual replacement, Justice Kennedy, was for conservatives, to the huge disappointment that Justice Souter was named by George H.W. Bush for conservatives and the conservative determination that these gaffes of the past, that the moments that they had squandered would not be repeated again. And so that this was their moment to finally get the fifth vote on the court. They were. They were absolutely determined that it would not be denied them. And so when Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination ran into trouble, that might have led a different president or a different Senate in a different time to abandon him and look for an alternative. They were going to do what he took because as Chuck Grassley’s chief nominations counsel told me, Kavanaugh had become too big to fail.

S12: It seems to me that there is a connection between the ambition you’re talking about for Kavanaugh’s nomination and the too big to fail. And Mitch McConnell’s, you know, genius play to stop Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for Scalia’s seat, like just this recognition, increasingly powerful in the Republican Party, that these norms and niceties that have allowed the American government to function and had some bipartisan support are just like not worth it. Voters don’t care about them. They’re not going to stop Republicans from winning elections. And so, like, we’re just going to ram our people and our goals through. I mean, is that part of what was going on here?

S18: I think it’s absolutely part of what was going on here. And I think it has its current day still unfolding analogue really in the impeachment proceedings, where there’s not a lot of willingness on the part of Republicans to grapple with the significance and seriousness of the underlying facts and to have a debate on the merits about what does and does not, if anything, does ever rise to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor. Mitch McConnell is a very important figure in this whole story because he is the what he is actually behind the scenes pushing Trump to come out with the darn list already because he knew it was going to be a motivating force for his voters. And the thing that he cares about the most is maintaining his Senate majority. So it’s this ruthlessness that we saw. Both with the. I’m going to call it theft of Merrick Garland seat on the Supreme Court. And with getting Cavin across the finish line, I think it’s important to understand the mindset on the other side, which is Republicans and conservatives will look at and they’ll look back to the Anita Hill Clarence Thomas hearings and the last minute nature of those allegations. They’ll look to the last minute nature of how the Christine Blousy fought allegations against Justice kavanagh’s surfaced. And they will say, as Brett Kavanaugh did in that incredibly volcanic testimony, that this was a partisan smear campaign. And in the end, Democrats would do whatever it took to try to stop him. So there is a conviction on both sides that the other side is ruthless. I think it’s completely correct that both sides would try to do what it takes to achieve their aim. The reality is, is that Republicans, after having lost Bork, have just gotten so much better at it than Democrats have. And I think have assembled the architecture through Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society, and the incredible sums of money that he’s able to generate in support of these judicial nominees. They just have the architecture and the funding to get the job done.

S5: Ruth Marcus, this book is Supreme Ambition. Brett Cabinet, The Conservative Takeover Get it an annoyed president. Trump Get it and delight yourself. Ruth Thanks for doing so by the book.

S14: Let’s go to cocktail chatter. When you are having a beer with Brett Kavanaugh.

S5: As you might say, he apparently did. Back in the day, what are you gonna be chattering about? John DICKERSON.

S6: Mind chatter is is about this lovely New York Times feature on the New York subway map.

S13: If you live in New York, the New York subway is a subject of some disappointment to you in your daily in your daily efforts.

S21: I know you do appreciate it as being so much better. Hashtag back off. Transportations. Yes, exactly.

S13: I do well in New York, but I always feel it seems since fitting in this in the ethos of the gab fest that the two non New Yorkers are weighing in on the New York subway system.

S14: Hard. I work both part time New Yorkers so well to back off anyway.

S6: What I would like to do is is celebrate The New York Times subway map, which The New York Times has this great feature, which I encourage people to to look at on the Web, but also on your mobile device because they’ve optimized this and you it’s the story of the redesign of the map in 1979 of iconic New York subway map. And my favorite little fact about it beautifully displayed in this in this feature is that when they redesigned it, the principal redesign or whose name I’m gonna butcher, but is, I think, Nobuyuki so racy. Sorosky, who is a sculptor and a painter in making the redesign of the map. One of the things they found, the old map, is that straight lines were irritating to people and confusing. And so what he did was he rode the subways with his eyes closed, all lines beginning to end road the entire thing with his eyes closed in order to create this map that we all now know so well.

S1: And wait, I don’t get this at all. How do you make a map when your eyes are closed? What are you talking about?

S22: So it’s not that wasn’t all he did. There was like a second step. It was just. And in a napkin with mustard stains from Coney Island and like his pan. But in order to get a feel for the rhythm and movement of the subway lines, he rode them with his eyes closed. And then it sort of drew the feeling of the of the curve.

S13: He felt the curve and then he felt the curve.

S21: Why? He felt the bell. Yeah. So he felt that.

S6: Thank you. David, are you sure you were in the New York subways? And so anyway, that that that feeling of the curve, that feeling of being in the in the subway informed his graphic design of the New York subway map, which now helps people get through the city as best they can.

S10: You know what the most here’s the most amazing fact to me about the New York subway map. But in all New York maps in general, like look at the New York subway map. What like when you look at Manhattan, what’s Manhattan is straight up and down, right? Sure. Right.

S14: So you look at. Yeah, so so. And also in the top Manhattan, it’s long but so it Manhattan you would say. Emily. Oh pose this to you. Goes north. South. Right. Uh-Huh. Manhattan does not go due north and south at all. Manhattan has like a 15 degree tilt that it’s more like it. You know, 130. It goes for more like 730 to 130. But every once in the maps are all pointed to make it look like it goes from 12:00 to 6:00, because that’s how people orient.

S17: And yet that’s not me. It makes you think that way.

S14: And the grid makes you think that way. And yet it’s not. And then when you realize like, oh, wait, that’s not north where I’m going, it’s I’m going northeast.

S13: Well, and once you get down into lower Manhattan, I mean, it’s just a mess and you get lost if you’re me.

S15: So those of us who are MIT navigate pigeon like with magnetic north are constantly confused. Emily Watts, who is that person I’d navigate very much by by absolute direction? Like that’s how I if I somehow where the sun is, is how I feel, where things are. Huh?

S17: When you’re so much better at it than I am, of course, everyone in the entire world does better than navigating than I am. All right. What’s your chatter, Emily?

S19: My chatter is about this story in The Washington Post about the Statue of Liberty and its origins involving a celebration, an aneffort by the French to celebrate the freeing of slaves as opposed to the welcoming of immigrants. This is a revelation to me. Turns out the story is from last May, but it only appeared in my social media feed this week. And it’s a story from the Museum of the Statue of Liberty, which is reviving this aspect of the statue’s history. And I never noticed this before, but there are these broken chains under the foot of. Lady Liberty and actually the in the original design, she would have been holding the broken chains in one of her hands and then maybe we wouldn’t have lost sight of this really interesting origin story. And, you know, it just it’s I’m happy to continue to celebrate. The Statue of Liberty is welcoming immigrants, but it turns out the statue was erected six years before Ellis Island started being the processing center for those immigrants. And there was just this alternative rationale for it. The other fascinating part of the story is that by the time it was completed, African-American newspapers were actually editorializing around the celebration because by then, of course, the betrayal of the end of reconstruction had come. And they did not want America to be let off the hook for the way in which the failure to, you know, really make freedom mean what it should have meant to.

S9: Doesn’t the poem, the Emma Goldman poem with added much later, right?

S17: Yeah. 2:41, I think.

S5: Cool. My chatter is that depressing chatter. It is about the story that was set of stories that ran this week about death rates in the United States and the fact that young people or people in middle, young and middle age are dying more than they should be and that U.S. life expectancies are flat and not certainly not rising in the way that they are elsewhere in the world because of it. And that you see, because of suicide, because of gun deaths, because of drug deaths, obesity, diseases of despair, despair and poverty. People are dying in shocking rates, and there’s an interesting Paul Krugman column this week which points out that this is a this is politically divided, that if you look at richer, bluer city urban areas, life expectancy tends to be rising because education rates are higher because of Medicaid expansion, because of stronger social support networks, and that red areas tend to be seen the opposite that it and red areas. We’re seeing life expectancy declines in blue areas. Pretending to see life expectancy rises. And it’s bad news. It’s bad news for the world’s bad news for the country. It’s bad news for these tens of thousands of people who are dying younger and sadder and then more awful ways than they should be otherwise. Listeners, you continue to send us great chatters. Please keep them coming. There are so many good ones. There’s somebody who recommended that wonderful New York Times story at any even nine, including this The New York Times story about the prince of this royal family that was living in a in a palace in Delhi in a kind of decrepit palace in Delhi.

S19: My God, Ellen Barry’s crazy, amazing.

S10: Ellen Barry is the greatest. Ellen Barry is such an incredible writer. I’ve been following her. I mean, I interviewed her for jobs over the years and just like always tried to hire her. But my God, she’s a good reporter and finds most amazing stories.

S5: But that story you should check out about this, this family that was living in a palace in Delhi and, you know, claimed to be the princes of a of a. Another state in India. And it’s just crazy story anyway. But the listeners chattering uses from Kathleen bartends at at Kathy bartends. I hope I’m pronouncing your name right, Kathy. And it’s about Jonah Larson. And Jonah Larsson is a knitter or he’s a cross share. What’s the difference being crocheting and knitting?

S17: Oh, everything OK? Well, Monty, when we want to stop, we stop thinking that a different stitch, a different motion. OK.

S14: So Jonah Larson is an 11 year old who has been crocheting since he was 5 years old and he has ADHD and he used crocheting to kind of keep focus. And it kept him out of trouble in school. And it’s he’s become this Instagram icon, this person who is gives talks about his crocheting, who’s selling lots of stuff. And just a lovely story about a kid who has developed an unlikely interest and likely habit. And it’s and is inspiring lots of other people to take up crocheting and maybe even knitting as well. Who knows?

S1: Yes. Can I second this? This is how I survived listening to lectures in law school. Was there knitting? Because I also have so much trouble sitting still and focusing when I’m trying to listen. It’s really, really helpful.

S5: I wonder if you are somebody who knits or crochet as well. Listen to the podcast. Drop us in.

S3: That is our show for day. The gabfest is produced by Josslyn Frank. Researchers Bridget Dunlap, Melissa Kaplan helped in D.C. with Hales and Allen Pang in New York. Ryan McAvoy in New Haven. So many helpers everywhere. Everywhere. Gabriel Roth is our editorial director. June Thomas at the mentioned producer Slate podcast. You should follow us on Twitter at Slate Gabfests and tweet your chatter to us there. And please come to our live show on December 18th at in Oakland, second-to-last live. For tickets at the Fox Theater. We look forward to seeing you there for Emily Bazelon, John DICKERSON, I am David Plotz. Thanks for listening.

S2: We’ll talk to you next week.

S5: Hello. Slate plus. How are you? I personally spent a bunch of time buying president this weekend, not actually going anywhere, but just going online and rapidly running through my list of ideas and then coming up with worse ideas. And this is the season where you you have to if you are somebody who celebrates Christmas or Hanukkah or maybe other holidays, you end up getting some presence, giving some presence. And the question is, is it better to give or to receive people’s line is it’s better to give. And there is this is a cliche that you feel better when you give something to somebody and it’s more satisfying, whereas receiving a gift is, you know, it’s temporary. It’s but the object is not enough. So something we have chosen for yourself. And it doesn’t it just doesn’t have as durable a warm feeling as giving a gift does and doesn’t make you doesn’t fire the the satisfying, moralistic, self-righteous neurons in your brain that come from from giving a gift to somebody. So, Emily, better to give or receive.

S1: I still think it’s better to give. I’m gonna confess that I find the exchange of presents to be kind of excruciating and which is why you’ve never let your children get them on their birthdays.

S17: Exactly. They still are angry about that.

S1: Resentful. But I just I I’m sure this is just my own character failing. It’s so fraught with potential disappointment. I feel a lot of anxiety about being able to find for anyone something that they might actually want as opposed to like my idea of what they might want. And then when you are not sure and you’re giving it. That always makes me worried. But I would pick giving over receiving any day because I feel like the it’s I it’s hard even when someone gives me a gift. I do indeed. Like I feel like it’s hard to convey that in a genuine way. And it’s all just like fraught for me in a way that I feel kind of humiliated by John.

S11: Well, first of all, you framed it in such an unappealing way to say that the eyes light up.

S21: That’s my specialty. It’s John Reid.

S13: Well, the most righteous to be to be, you know, happy or in other people’s happiness.

S6: The good gift giving is a is such a talent. And the people who have it, you can tell, are curating and are I mean, they’re basically alive and sensitive to the people around them and the things that would truly delight them, which requires a really, you know, attentive mind to to be on on the ball. I have a friend who is incredibly good at gift giving. And I actually have a I’m the 3v3 nature wife who’s really good at gift giving. She is she is very good at gift giving. And and and in so anyway. So that that’s a skill I wish I had. And so that’s one that’s just one random thought. But while I generally believe that it is so much better and particularly depending on, you know, family members or someone you really love getting them something that you that hits that mark is a is a. I mean, it’s a rare joy that. However, having said that, going back to my wife throughout our long 30 almost year relationship, the like, the first gift I can think that she got me is that when we were in college, I would drink gas station coffee. There was a gas station near us, or I suppose maybe I made it and whatever disastrous coffeemaker we had in our house. And she went to a coffee place and got some coffee beans that were like better on your stomach than the than the basically kerosene that I was drinking from the gas station and that because I was drinking lots of coffee, staying up all night. And so that was like the first gift. And then she has given me sort of coffee related gifts at one reason or one way or another in 30 years. One of them was the Arab press, which I’ve had now for, I don’t know, 10, 15 years. So that Arab press every day, I am reminded of that just absolute perfect gift. And, you know, so that is a way in which you give that. I was I received it still pays off over time, not just in that I have nice coffee every day, but that that a little tiny bit of that that wonder or that thoughtfulness, I guess is really what I mean is in each cup of coffee.

S7: So I’ll stow my self-righteousness and in liking to give gifts and indulge in that little bit of self love.

S10: That’s a lovely story. The and I just want to align myself with that sense of the people who can give really thoughtful gifts that are remarkable. And my daughter actually is an incredible gift giver. I think it’s because she is a very close observer of people and just picks up on small clues that lead her to make great decisions. She’s very thoughtful about it. So huzzah to you. Child, I would say here, here, John has sort of gotten to a fundamental truth, which is that so people like to give gifts like they do feel better giving gifts. Right. And it actually, in general makes you feel better to give a gift that is a well studied phenomenon.

S23: Given that given that isn’t the best gift you can give is to be a generous recipient of other people’s gifts, that what you should be is somebody who is like so appreciative of gifts that people give you because they are giving you. They’re getting huge psychic satisfaction by giving you gifts. And you can magnify that satisfaction by being genuinely appreciative. So you the most altruistic thing that you can do is give people a chance to give you gifts that you’ll like. And so it’s better to receive gifts because you’re giving other people a chance to be happier.

S10: That’s the true altruism, is to give other people a chance to be happier by letting them give you gifts that will be valuable.

S6: That’s very persuasive. That is very well done. Very, very well done. And and I hesitate to say anything because it’s such so perfectly said. However, boy, there is that moment sometimes when you get a gift and I ask you open it and and it requires every ounce of of. I remember one year my mother told everybody my brother wanted picture frames. And so he got like sixteen different picture frames that year from people because she told every individual person. And so when he got to a picture frame twelve, he he just couldn’t summon any more work anymore. giggy any more gratitude and the picture frame. Yeah, exactly.

S12: What do you guys think about Yanqui swaps and all of this?

S16: So Mike, I don’t even know what this is. I don’t even know what this is. A definite basilone like another way to not give to my children. Oh, definitely about one way. They’re not giving land to children. Definitely. It’s different. How did you start your children this time?

S1: No, no. This is something. I’ve only done it like friends of Mine’s Houses in Vermont. I think of it as like super wasp. I mean, it’s called a Yankee Swap. I don’t know. Just kidding.

S20: In any case, a Yankee swap. Everybody brings a gift. And then you pick one out. They’re wrapped. I mean, the one at the time I did it. And you unwrap it and then you can trade.

S4: So the horror of it is that the gift that you put into the pile is one that nobody wants. It is like getting traded around the circle. But the wonderful thing about it is that you end up with something, hopefully that you want more rather than less.

S1: And so does everyone else. And it has this like lovely utilitarian flavor.

S22: But it has my personal.

S10: It’s not. There’s no human brain.

S1: It’s sort of like group personal as opposed to individual person, you know.

S6: Which is why the Yankee Swap often leads to never mind the.

S22: It seems to me that that’s just a host of terrible outcomes. There’s the.

S6: You already identified, which is that you pick a gift and everybody is trying to shuck it to the gift that you open is when you want to keep. And then you have. And then you kind of cling to it and won’t let anybody.

S21: You don’t have to trade it. I know.

S22: But then that replaces the joyous moment of gift giving with one of like suppressed rage and passive aggressive cause. You got a salad spinner that I’ve most kindle in my heart, a desire for. So that’s a that’s a big problem.

S6: And then and then you feel bad for being miserly with the salad spinner. But then the other person who’s who’s stuck with the whatever the soup spoon or whatever they got stuck with is bombed. It seems like a recipe for bumping everyone out, huh?

S17: All right. Well, I’ve only done it a couple of times, so I don’t have enough evidence.

S16: Emily, open the salad spinner. That’s definitely. What do you say? I’ve definitely got conference held dinners.

S4: I feel that you can just like dry your lettuce off with paper towels or regular towels. Anyway, I’m with you.

S14: All right. Slate plus. That was a. You got some good content there today.

S16: I was being sarcastic. No, I’ve been totally serious.

S14: This is probably one of the most popular slate plus segments we’d ever done. We’ve solved everyone’s gift-giving problems, calculators, slate plus.