The Atlantic Politics Daily: Trump’s Top Defender in Congress

This is hardly the first time that Nunes has gone out of his way to defend the president. Plus, 2020 candidates who tick the right boxes, yet still aren’t taking off.

It’s Tuesday, November 19. In today’s newsletter: a word on Devin Nunes during the impeachment hearings. Plus, why these 2020 candidates tick the right boxes, yet still aren’t taking off.


(Shawn Thew / Getty)

Trump’s top defender in Congress

If “little pencil neck Adam Schiff” represents the chief villain to the president and his supporters during the ongoing impeachment inquiry, who is Donald Trump’s top defender on Capitol Hill?

The yin to Schiff’s yang is another representative from California: Devin Nunes, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

On the first day of public hearings this week, Nunes seemed intent on doing the president’s bidding, and on using his allotted question time to get two witnesses to publicly identify the whistle-blower whose complaint accelerated the inquiry.

Read my colleague Russell Berman on how Devin Nunes went full-on attack dog today.

This is hardly the first time that Nunes has gone out of his way to defend the president.

Last year, he released a memo—much critiqued by Democratic lawmakers—aimed at discrediting the Mueller investigation. In it, he alleged surveillance abuses by the FBI.

How did such a strategy work out for Nunes then? My colleague David A. Graham wrote at the time that the document included interesting details, but cautioned that “it is also a partisan document, prepared by a close ally of the president’s who served on his transition team and has provided unreliable information in the recent past.”

And in 2017, not long after Trump’s inauguration, Nunes kinda-sorta recused himself from the Russia investigation, following a botched attempt to substantiate a conspiracy theory that Barack Obama had ordered wiretaps on Trump Tower. (Nunes, then chairman of the Intelligence Committee, found himself ensnared in an ethics investigation over public disclosure of classified information.)


People wait in the public-viewing line ahead of morning testimony from U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, and Jennifer Williams, a special adviser to Vice President Mike Pence for European and Russian affairs. (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)



1. Ticking all the boxes in the 2020 presidential race isn’t enough.

Why hasn’t Cory Booker had his own moment this campaign cycle?

Pete Buttigieg gets admiring attention for being a Rhodes Scholar. Kamala Harris gets attention for being a black candidate who has won statewide election. Beto O’Rourke got attention for speaking Spanish and being a social-media savant. But Booker is a Rhodes scholar, he was the first black candidate to win statewide in New Jersey, he speaks Spanish, and he has been a social-media phenomenon …

Our 2020 reporter Edward-Isaac Dovere explores Booker’s deflating campaign, posing the question to staffers, voters, and Booker himself.

+ Booker isn’t the only Democratic candidate who seems to have a proper résumé but isn’t resonating with voters as expected.

2. It was somewhat okay at times; it was the worst of times.

This stretch of time for the administration, David A. Graham argues, is closer to the latter, even by the standards of the Trump presidency, and even beyond the impeachment inquiry. The blows Trump has suffered of late are threefold, David writes:

The first is that Trump has alienated key constituencies. His pardons for war criminals are apparently intended to pander to a certain variety of jingoistic militarism, but they have upset many other members of the military community, in addition to Trump’s own appointees in the Defense Department.

Read on for the other two.

3. A key presidential aide has a white-nationalism problem.

As one of the main influences on the administration’s hard-line immigration policies, Stephen Miller has always drawn liberal ire. New revelations prove that his liberal critics, who see him as a promoter of even darker ideologies, were right, Adam Serwer argues:

A cache of Miller’s emails, provided by the former Breitbart News staffer Katie McHugh to the Southern Poverty Law Center, draws a straight line between the Trump administration’s immigration policies and previous, explicitly racist immigration laws.

Read the full essay.

+ The origin story: Back in 2018, our staff writer McKay Coppins interviewed Miller, as well as those who worked with him or knew him early in his life. Even as a high-school student, Miller would needle and alarm his classmates, including once jumping into a girls’ track race to make a point about male athleticism.



The GOP appointees who said no to Nixon

Michael Koncewicz draws another Watergate-era comparison—but not between the arcs of Trump’s and Nixon’s presidencies.

While the current administration has provided a surplus of comparisons to Nixon, the two presidents are specifically connected through their persistent campaigns against civil servants and other dedicated professionals within the government who resisted abuses of power by the White House.

Read the full story.


Today’s edition of our daily newsletter of political ideas and arguments was written by Saahil Desai, and edited by Shan Wang.

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