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How Twitter’s Algorithm Poured Gas on the Bernie-Warren Spat

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An awkward exchange between Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on the debate stage Tuesday night sparked the type of digital spat that tech platforms can easily blow out of proportion.

#NeverWarren was the top trending topic on Twitter across America Wednesday morning, earning top placement in users’ mobile apps and desktop sites. But there was a hitch: Many of the largest accounts using the hashtag were trying to cool tensions, according to data collected by Hoaxy, a tool created by Indiana University researchers to track the flow of information online.

The accounts still fed Twitter’s algorithm, gave the impression of a sexist onslaught against Warren, and fueled media coverage to drive it home.

Warren and Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaigns have quibbled in recent days over whether he told her in 2018 that a woman couldn’t win the presidency. Tuesday night’s debate moderators raised the issue again: Warren confirmed the story, and Sanders denied it. And they closed the night with a seemingly tense exchange that ended with Warren not shaking Sanders’ hand.

In the hours afterward, Twitter users shared #NeverWarren in an apparently serious reference to the standoff. Others used the hashtag #WarrenIsASnake or posted snake GIFs in her mentions. A handful of pro-Trump accounts amplified both.

But Hoaxy suggests that many of the largest vectors for #NeverWarren were actually users who denounced it. The tool hooks in to Twitter’s API and maps out how hashtags travel across the platform, visualizing engagement — or communication — among different groups of users. NBC News reporter Ben Collins first noted the dynamic.

With #NeverWarren, the largest nodes of discussion on the map tended toward progressive activists and journalists with large followings, who argued that any divide between Warren and Sanders paled in comparison to a Democratic candidate and President Donald Trump. George Takei, the actor and liberal activist, urged users to “knock it off” in a tweet with nearly 10,000 likes and retweets.

The three below added roughly 40,000 more likes and retweets. Those numbers, which are viral by Twitter standards, don’t include mentions:

The tweets that ensued could reopen old wounds for Sanders supporters, who were dogged in 2016 by the “Bernie Bro” caricature of extremely online misogyny. Disinformation researchers have also warned that such cultural debates are fertile ground for attempts to sow division online.

Despite agreeing on nearly everything else, Warren and Sanders’ spat about their previous conversation about sexism and politics has blown up in recent days. Outlets including The Hill, Newsweek, Breitbart, and The Daily Wire all referenced the #NeverWarren hashtag as evidence that the feud between the two candidates, as per CNN’s words, “just got way uglier.”

These Twitter trends, decided by an algorithm and tailored to individual users, are intended “to help you discover the hottest emerging topics of discussion,” according to the company’s website. A Twitter spokesperson added to VICE News that it hadn’t detected any bot activity pushing the hashtag Wednesday.

“People choose to tweet with a hashtag they might disagree with, and our Trends product neutrally represents their behavior in the form of a trending topic,” the spokesperson said.

In other words, a trending topic connotes discussion around a term, not a particular argument for or against that term. That distinction helped turn #NeverWarren into a circular firing squad.

Cover image: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., left and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. talk Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, after a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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The latest on President Trump’s impeachment

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said “there may very well be” more evidence from Lev Parnas that could be used in Senate trial.

Asked today if that would be admissible in the Senate trial, Nadler told CNN’s Manu Raju: “Of course it would be if the Senate is a real trial.”

Nadler added: “We will work that out” when asked how the impeachment managers would divide up their work.

More on Parnas: The indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani turned over photos, dozens of text messages and thousands of pages of documents to House impeachment investigators in an effort to win his client an audience with lawmakers.

Joseph A. Bondy, Parnas’ New York attorney, traveled to Washington, DC, last weekend to hand-deliver the contents of an iPhone 11 to Democratic staff on the House Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, according to a series of Bondy’s tweets.

Parnas has also provided investigators with documents, recordings, photos, text messages on WhatsApp, an encrypted messaging platform, and materials from a Samsung phone, according to Bondy. Material from two other devices, an iPad and another iPhone, are also expected to be shared with them.

Parnas, his business partner Igor Fruman, and two others were charged with funneling foreign money into US elections and using a straw donor to obscure the true source of political donations. They have all pleaded not guilty to the charges.

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Sanders-Warren debate exchange on sexism missed the point

During Tuesday’s Democratic debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders pushed back on CNN reporter Abby Phillip when she asked why he said he “did not believe that a woman could win the election,” comments Sen. Elizabeth Warren alleges he made in a private conversation.

“How could anybody in a million years not believe that a woman could become president of the United States?” Sanders asked, while denying that he ever made this statement.

As it turns out, a lot of people seem to. (And Warren maintains Sanders does.)

While polling has shown that Democrats are overwhelmingly open to a woman president, voters remain concerned that others — including a subset of swing voters — are not. A common refrain? People want to support a woman, but they don’t know if other voters can get past their gender bias to do it.

This dynamic is evident in a 2019 Ipsos/Daily Beast poll. The poll found 74 percent of Democrats and independents said they would be comfortable with a female president, but 33 percent believed their neighbors wouldn’t be quite as accepting.

Earlier this month, former Vice President Joe Biden expressed a similar sentiment, noting that Hillary Clinton encountered sexism when she ran for the Democratic nomination in 2016. “That’s not going to happen with me,” he said, implying that he’d have a leg up over a female contender. (His campaign has since said his remarks weren’t intended to question a woman’s electability.)

On one level, it’s understandable there’s a perception that sexist attitudes hold back female candidates. Sexism does impose additional barriers on women: Studies show that women have to demonstrate their qualifications in a way that men simply don’t, that they have to calibrate the way they show ambition, and that they’re still judged on tenets like “likability” in a way that male candidates are not.

Clinton and her campaign have said sexism was a major factor in the outcome of 2016. In her book, Clinton communications director Jen Palmieri wrote that the campaign “encountered an unconscious but pervasive gender bias that held Hillary back in many ways.”

Palmieri, however, includes an important caveat. “I want to be clear that while misogyny and sexism were a problem on the campaign trail, I don’t believe everyone who voted against Hillary did so for sexist reasons,” she wrote.

It’s this point that’s sometimes lost in the discussion about sexism — and it’s one that’s further corroborated by data. While women certainly face sexism as candidates, research has found that it’s far from the only factor at play.

Time and again, political scientists have determined that when women run for office, they perform just as well as their male counterparts. And in the last national election in 2018, Democratic women outperformed men. Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota on Tuesday night pointed to their own success as proof: “When you look at what I have done, I have won every race, every place, every time,” Klobuchar said.

In perhaps the most notable line of the evening, Warren called out the men onstage for losing past elections, contrasting their record with hers. “Look at the men on this stage. Collectively, they have lost 10 elections,” she quipped, adding that she and Klobuchar hadn’t lost any.

Electability has become a central question among Democrats in 2020. Understandably, they want to pick the absolute strongest contender to take on President Trump, even if the knocks against a candidate (like her gender) aren’t fair. But these concerns aren’t rooted in what the research shows, which is that sexism is real but isn’t the force Democrats fear.

Female candidates deal with sexism

Biden’s remarks (and Sanders’s alleged remarks) point to a concern many voters have raised: that sexism will be so damning to a woman’s candidacy in 2020 that there’s little chance she’ll be able to beat Trump.

For many of these voters, the concern they’ve expressed isn’t so much about their preferences but about those of other voters, who they worry won’t vote for a woman nominee.

It’s an assumption that emerged following the 2016 election and Clinton’s loss to Trump, particularly since the campaign made it an issue. Clinton referenced the obstacles raised by gender bias in her book What Happened:

The moment a woman steps forward and says, ‘I’m running for office’, it begins. The analysis of her face, her body, her voice, her demeanor; the diminishment of her stature, her ideas, her accomplishments, her integrity.

In a 2017 interview, Clinton pointed to the effect of misogyny on the election. “Certainly, misogyny played a role. I mean, that just has to be admitted,” she said. “And why and what the underlying reasons were is what I’m trying to parse out myself.”

A Tufts University study from political science professor Brian Schaffner also found that sexist and racist attitudes were tied to Trump support in 2016.

The question is whether sexism against the candidate can be seen as the deciding factor in the election — a conclusion that researchers have repeatedly pushed back on both because it’s tough to pinpoint this exact relationship and because there is evidence suggesting otherwise.

The 2016 race ultimately came down to less than a few percentage points in several states. In Michigan, for example, Clinton lost by roughly 11,000 votes, a margin so thin that any single factor could be pointed to as a reason for her loss. Solely blaming sexism obscures many of the unique challenges she faced, including her heavy political baggage, and ignores other campaign missteps.

As Vox’s Matt Yglesias writes, it’s very difficult to draw a causal connection between sexism and Clinton’s loss given all the variables involved, and even more so, to project that conclusion onto a future nominee:

Regardless of what exact role you think misogyny played in the coverage Clinton received and the reactions people had to her, the outcome of the 2016 campaign should not make you think a woman can’t beat Trump. Clinton would’ve won if she’d had slightly better luck. She would’ve won if the state boundaries were drawn slightly differently. She would’ve won if she’d made a couple of smarter decisions in the past. And most important, she would’ve won if the underlying fundamentals were narrowly in her favor rather than narrowly against her.

Nobody knows how promising the fundamentals will be for Democrats in 2020. But if they’re favorable, there’s every reason to think a woman nominee will win, and if they’re not, there’s every reason to think a man will lose.

To suggest that gender was the deciding aspect of Clinton’s loss also fuels dangerous assumptions, effectively enabling people to argue that no other woman should be considered for the job. It’s a flawed conclusion that some people could take from 2016, simply because the sample size of women who have been major-party nominees is so small.

“When people say it shouldn’t be a woman this time because a woman lost last time, well, men have been losing the presidency for hundreds of years,” said Amanda Hunter, a policy director at the Barbara Lee Family Foundation.

Data shows that women do just as well as men

Research on the 2016 election and other races further counters the assumptions about the role of sexism in campaign outcomes.

When it comes to running for public office, women win at the same rates as men, according to a number of studies, including one from political scientists Richard Seltzer, Jody Newman, and Melissa Voorhees Leighton, who examined patterns in House, Senate, and state legislature races in the 1980s and ’90s.

Another from UC Berkeley’s Lefteris Anastasopoulos looked at whether the nomination of a female candidate for the House affected the likelihood of victory between 1982 and 2012. He did not find that gender had any negative association with the candidate’s probability of winning.

Instead, researchers have determined that the barriers that have prevented women from even deciding to run are larger deterrents than the discrimination they may face once they’re a candidate.

“When women run for political office, they are just as likely as men to be elected,” the New York Times’s Claire Cain Miller wrote. “The main reason they are so underrepresented is that they don’t run in the first place.”

Data from the recent midterm elections further highlights the strength of women candidates. In 2018, Democratic women were among some of the strongest performers, including in competitive swing districts, driving the lion’s share of red-to-blue wins the party experienced in the House. Non-incumbent Democratic women had the highest win rates of any congressional candidates in both parties, according to an analysis by Rutgers University political science professor Kelly Dittmar.

Historically, too, researchers have determined that party affiliations hold more sway than a candidate’s gender, though some studies suggest sexism was at the very least a factor for some voters across party lines in 2016.

Even if that were the case, though, researchers have found that attitudes toward gender could ultimately work more in favor of women candidates and the Democratic Party than it does against them.

“Experiencing the first two years of Trump’s presidency pushed less sexist Americans toward the Democratic Party in 2018,” Tufts’ Schaffner and YouGov’s Sam Luks wrote in the Washington Post. Their research, as well as that of the University of Texas’s Harold Clarke and Marianne Stewart, notes that while voters who may hold more sexist viewpoints could move away from Democrats overall, the party could have more to gain from those with less sexist viewpoints crossing over.

The focus on sexism hurting women candidates creates a self-fulfilling feedback loop

Calling out sexism is important. But doing so can feel like a double-edged sword: If women acknowledge that sexism is a problem, opponents can use their gender against them to question their electability.

As the 2018 elections demonstrated, women have no problem winning in spite of sexism. That year, female candidates across the ideological spectrum flipped the majority of House seats that Democrats retook, and flipped both Senate seats the party won as well as the majority of gubernatorial seats.

Of course, a presidential election is different from congressional and gubernatorial races, but this pattern underscores a track record of a range of female candidates winning.

Citing sexism as the main reason for passing on a female candidate also implies that there are no differences in the qualifications, ideas, and strategy that different female candidates are bringing to their campaign.

This cycle, alone, six women from different ideological perspectives and backgrounds have campaigned for the Democratic nomination. While several of them have already dropped out, the three who are left — Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard — are running on radically different policy proposals across a wide range of issues including health care, student debt, and climate change.

When sexism is used to discount female candidates, such arguments don’t take into account that every woman, including Clinton, Warren, and Klobuchar, is unique, with her own respective strengths and weaknesses.

Electability is a flawed construct

No one knows how the 2020 election will play out, which means any assumptions that people have about the role gender will play are just that — assumptions.

“There’s no empirical evidence that you could lump in a whole region and say that women have not, or will not, fare well there,” said Dittmar, who is a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics.

For one, turnout is a major variable that could wind up swaying the outcome, and it won’t be evident until after the election. In a recent example, Andrew Gillum surprised pollsters when he won the Democratic nomination for the Florida gubernatorial race in 2018, because he was able to turn out a higher proportion of young and black voters than previously anticipated. State-level polls have also missed the outcome of past races, including the 2016 election, because the turnout that day did not align with previous expectations.

In the case of 2020, a Pew poll has found that a segment of voters could be even more energized for a female candidate, though that survey did not include analysis about the types of policies voters favored from their top candidates.

Because there’s so much we don’t know about the election, to rule out an entire group of candidates solely because there are biased notions of who has won the presidency in the past is to give those biases disproportionate weight.

Simply put, there is only one true measure of a person’s electability.

“Is this person going to win the general election?” UCLA political science professor Lynn Vavreck told Vox. “The only way to know that is if they win the general election.”

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Trump impeachment: House sends historic case to Senate

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Media captionPelosi “proud to present impeachment managers”

The US House of Representatives has passed a resolution to submit articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate for a trial.

The resolution passed largely along party lines by 228 votes to 193.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will sign a copy of the measure with the newly announced team of lawmakers who will prosecute the case against Mr Trump.

The House, controlled by opposition Democrats, impeached the president last month.

The Senate, controlled by Mr Trump’s Republican Party, will decide whether to convict and remove him from office.

The president is accused of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. He denies trying to pressure Ukraine’s leader during a phone call on 25 July last year to open an investigation into his would-be Democratic White House challenger Joe Biden.

Mr Trump has been touting unsubstantiated corruption claims about Mr Biden and his son, Hunter, who accepted a lucrative board position with a Ukrainian energy firm while his father handled American-Ukraine relations as US vice-president. Mr Biden is one of a dozen candidates campaigning for the Democratic Party’s White House nomination.

The Senate trial will be only the third of a US president in history.

Will he be removed from office?

While Democrats control the House, Mr Trump’s fellow Republicans hold sway in the Senate 53-47 and are all but certain to acquit him. It remains to be seen how the case could influence the president’s campaign for re-election this November.

Democrats hope the impeachment will carry symbolic weight. Mrs Pelosi, who launched the impeachment inquiry in September, said on the House floor before the vote: “We are here today to cross a very important threshold in American history.”

All Republicans voted against the resolution to transmit the articles of impeachment. Only one Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, did not vote in favour. Democrats were joined by Justin Amash of Michigan, a former Republican who left the party to become an independent.

The Republican leader in the House, Kevin McCarthy of California, said Democrats were trying to remove the president with the “weakest case”. He called it a “sad saga”.

How will the trial work?

Mrs Pelosi appeared earlier at a news conference with the seven “managers” who will prosecute the Democratic case against the Republican president. They will be led by Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House intelligence committee.

The six others are Jerrold Nadler, head of the House judiciary committee; Hakeem Jeffries of New York; Zoe Lofgren of California; Jason Crow of Colorado; Val Demings of Florida; and Sylvia Garcia of Texas. The seven will ceremonially walk the articles of impeachment across the Capitol to the Senate later on Wednesday.

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Media captionA beginner’s guide to impeachment and Trump

White House lawyers Pat Cipollone and Jay Sekulow have been tipped to lead the president’s defence team. The Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said opening statements in the trial were expected next Tuesday.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will be sworn in to preside, and he will administer an oath to all 100 senators to deliver “impartial justice” as jurors. Mr McConnell angered senior Democrats when he appeared to abandon that responsibility, saying Senate Republicans would act in lockstep with the Trump administration.

During an event at the White House, Mr Trump rejected the impeachment charges as a “hoax”.

The Senate trial could still be under way in early February when Iowa and New Hampshire hold the first contests to pick the eventual Democratic presidential candidate.

Mrs Pelosi defended her decision to hold off submitting the impeachment articles to Congress for more than three weeks as she quarrelled with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell about the trial rules, and even fellow Democrats urged her to stop stalling.

“Time has been our friend in all of this, because it has yielded incriminating evidence, more truth into the public domain,” she told reporters.

As Mrs Pelosi spoke, Mr Trump tweeted to call the process a “Con Job by the Do Nothing Democrats”.

Will there be witnesses?

One of the biggest sticking points between House Democrats and Senate Republicans is over what testimony will be allowed at the trial. The Senate’s trial plan will guarantee votes on whether to call witnesses and hear new evidence, Republican senators Lindsey Graham and Mike Rounds said on Tuesday.

It takes just 51 votes to approve rules or call witnesses, meaning four Republican senators would have to side with Democrats to insist on testimony. The White House is understood to have identified several possible defectors in the Republican ranks, including Ms Collins and Mr Romney.

The others are Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who is retiring this year. Ms Collins said: “My position is that there should be a vote on whether or not witnesses should be called.”

Mr Romney said he wants to hear from John Bolton, the former National Security Adviser, who has said he would only testify if served a legal summons.

“I expect that barring some kind of surprise. I’ll be voting in favour of hearing from witnesses after those opening arguments,” Mr Romney said.

Republicans say that if witnesses are allowed, they may try to subpoena Mr Biden and his son, and the unidentified government whistleblower whose complaint about Mr Trump sparked the whole impeachment inquiry.

A White House senior official official told reporters on Wednesday that the president would have the right to call witnesses should the Democrats do so, adding that it would be “extraordinarily unlikely” for the trial to run beyond two weeks.

Who are the House managers?

Adam Schiff, 59, (California) a Harvard-educated lawyer who presided over much of the House impeachment inquiry

Jerry Nadler, 72, (New York), the judiciary committee chairman who has been an adversary of Mr Trump since the 1980s

Zoe Lofgren, 72, (California) a Capitol Hill staffer during Nixon’s impeachment inquiry, she voted against President Clinton’s impeachment

Hakeem Jeffries, 49, (New York), a corporate lawyer by training and chairman of the Democratic caucus

Val Demings, 62, (Florida) who was the first female police chief in Orlando. She sits on the judiciary and intelligence committees

Jason Crow, 40, (Colorado) a former Army Ranger and Afghan and Iraq wars veteran who wrested a seat from a Republican in 2018

Sylvia Garcia, 69, (Texas) a first-term congresswoman who previously served as a judge for the Houston municipal court system

Want to find out more?

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House Votes to Send Impeachment Articles, Managers to the Senate

The House of Representatives voted to transmit articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate following a month-long delay. The House approved the matter in a 228-to-193-vote that was largely along partisan lines.

It came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) named two House chairmen who led the impeachment inquiry as prosecutors for the Senate trial. They are Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who led the probe, and Judiciary Chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), whose committee approved the impeachment articles.

Nadler called the House to vote on the managers just hours after they were named by the speaker. A 10-minute debate ensued between the GOP and Democrats on the floor, with Nadler again arguing that a “fair trial” in the Senate “must include additional documents and relevant witnesses.” Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the ranking Judiciary Committee Republican, argued that Democrats didn’t hold a “fair hearing in the House” and said the “president wasn’t allowed” to present counter-arguments and bring in fact witnesses.

The House voted to send up two articles that allege Trump abused his power and obstructed Congress, which is the last major action the lower chamber can take before the Senate takes over. After that, the managers will walk with the articles over the Senate building.

“Today is an important day,” said Pelosi in a news conference. “This is about the Constitution of the United States.”‘

Other managers named included Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), Val Demmings (D-Fla.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), and Jason Crow (D-Colo.)

Senators have said they expect to be sworn in as jurors this week, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has told reporters that the trial likely won’t start until next week, possibly Tuesday.

The House voted Dec. 18 to impeach Trump—in a party-line vote—but Pelosi announced that her caucus would place a hold on sending the articles of impeachment, saying that she would like to see how the Senate votes on its trial. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Pelosi have both called for witnesses, including former Trump adviser John Bolton, to be subpoenaed in the Senate trial, but McConnell has insisted on holding a trial within the parameters of the rules that were used during the impeachment efforts against then-President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s.

Ahead of the vote, McConnell on Wednesday again faulted the Democrats for rushing their case against Trump. “These things take time,” he said on the Senate floor. Democrats have disputed this claim, saying they need to move with urgency ahead of the 2020 election.

In his speech, McConnell laid out his case for acquitting Trump. “Speaker Pelosi and the House have taken our nation down a dangerous road. If the Senate blesses this unprecedented and dangerous House process by agreeing that an incomplete case and subjective basis are enough to impeach a president, we will almost guarantee the impeachment of every future president,” McConnell said.

The Democrats have alleged that Trump abused his office and blocked a congressional investigation in his dealings with Ukraine last year. Trump, they claimed, withheld millions of dollars in security aid to Kyiv in exchange for investigations into a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden. Trump and Ukrainian officials have denied the charges.

The White House and Republican allies said the inquiry is a continuation of a “witch hunt” that was initiated during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election, which found no evidence of such a crime. Republicans have also claimed Democrats are trying to undo the results of the 2016 election.

But on Wednesday, Democrats again argued there was overwhelming evidence Trump abused his office while continuing to push for the Senate to compel more testimony from key witnesses.

The White House had critical words after the House team was announced by the speaker.

“The naming of these managers does not change a single thing,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement after Pelosi’s announcement. “President Trump has done nothing wrong. He looks forward to having the due process rights in the Senate.”

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Trump impeachment: House votes to send articles to the Senate – live | US news



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Reporting from Pelosi’s press conference in DC, Guardian senior political reporter, Lauren Gambino, has details on the announcement:

After a cloak-and-dagger selection process – during which members lobbied for a position on the team – the newly-selected managers appeared at a press conference ahead of a vote to formally approve their appointment.

The team includes: House Intelligence chair Adam Schiff; House Judiciary chair Jerry Nadler; Zoe Lofgren, who has participated in three impeachment proceedings; Democratic caucus chair, Hakeem Jeffries; Val Demmings, who was Orlando’s first female chief of police; Jason Crow, a veteran Army Ranger who served in Iraq and Afghanistan; and Sylvia Garcia, one of the first two Latinas elected from Texas in 2018.

The team includes woman, two African Americans and one Latina – a stark contrast from the teams appointed to make the case for removing Andrew Johnson from office in 1868 and Bill Clinton from office in 1999.

Pelosi says Trump ‘can never erase’ impeachment as she names prosecutors – video

“The House has demonstrated its courage and patriotism,” Pelosi said. “Our managers reflect those values, and will now honor their responsibility to defend democracy for the people with great seriousness, solemnity and moral strength.”

The House will start debate on a resolution to approve the impeachment managers and take a vote shortly after that. Then the articles are formally transmitted to the Senate in a process that’s rich in pomp and circumstances. The managers will escort the articles in a wooden box across the Capitol and physically deliver them to the Senate.

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Cruz: The Question No One Is Asking Democratic Senators Ahead of Impeachment Trial

There is one question no one is asking Democratic Senators ahead of next week’s impeachment trial against President Donald Trump.

“Will you follow your oath,” according to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Cruz made the statement last month during a discussion at an event hosted by conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation. The oath is to remain fully impartial during the Senate trial and it is an oath that Cruz doesn’t believe Democrats will stand by.

“The House managers could show up in grass skirts with hula hoops and yodel and Elizabeth Warren would vote to convict, but, yet, no reporter is asking Elizabeth Warren, or Bernie Sanders, or any of the Democrats ‘are you gonna follow your oath,’” Cruz said.

He continued, “They’re all going to vote to convict except maybe Joe Manchin, maybe a couple of others, but every Democrat running for president is going to vote to convict. Why? Because of partisan rage and they hate Donald Trump…”

On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced those very managers and will proceed with transmitting the articles after an expected House vote at noon eastern.

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Welcome to the Conservative Porn Wars

Before Christmas, four Republican congressmen—the most prominent being Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, an important figure inside the Freedom Caucus—sent a letter reminding Attorney General Bill Barr that President Donald Trump had made a campaign promise to enforce obscenity laws against certain hardcore pornographers. Trump had signed a pledge circulated by Donna Rice Hughes’s anti-pornography group Enough Is Enough; it was uncontroversial enough that Hillary Clinton’s campaign sent a supportive letter, despite declining to sign on, citing a no-pledges policy.

“The Internet and other evolving technologies are fueling the explosion of obscene pornography by making it more accessible and visceral,” the four GOP lawmakers wrote. “This explosion in pornography coincides with an increase in violence towards women and an increase in the volume of human trafficking as well as child pornography.” They urged Barr to prosecute cases where porn purveyors met the legal standard for obscenity, especially when children are involved. “The United States has nearly 50% of all commercialized child pornography websites,” Representative Jim Banks told National Review’s Alexandra DeSanctis in a statement. “Pornography is ubiquitous in our culture and our children are being exposed at younger ages.”

The letter might have been largely ignored—Barr’s office was involved at the time in other matters more central to the news cycle, such as impeachment and investigations into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe—if conservative blogger Matt Walsh hadn’t ignited a Twitter firestorm over its contents. “This is a great move and conservatives who act perplexed at the suggestion that government might have a role in restricting hardcore porn obviously do not understand their own ideology,” he tweeted provocatively (or at least people professed to be provoked). “This is, at the very least, an idea worth discussing.” 

A Festivus-like airing of grievances has gripped the Right ever since Trump declared his improbable presidential candidacy going on five years ago. Still, it was surprising to watch conservatives spend the Christmas season debating pornography. Sohrab Ahmari, the pugnacious writer at the center of much of this ferment, naturally got in on the action. Writing in the New York Post, Ahmari chided the “dismaying reaction” to the letter the congressmen sent Barr “from many on the right, where access to porn has bizarrely emerged as a touchstone of ‘conservative’ orthodoxy.”

“Online porn isn’t that bad, the Twitter libertarians insist,” Ahmari continued. “Plus, there is no way to restrict access to online porn, and even if there were, such regulation would sound the death knell for our ancient liberties.” The Federalist’s Ben Domenech lambasted fellow social conservatives’ “apparent impression that porn is a relatively monolithic American industry that can be easily regulated” and asked, “Are the conservatives who think they can ban porn online purposefully ignoring the massive expansion of government this would require, or are they too stupid to realize it?” (This brings to mind an old joke in which one man asks another, “Are you ignorant or merely apathetic?” The second man replies, “I don’t know and I don’t care!”) 

“While there certainly are reasonable concerns over pornography and other vices, social conservatives should be careful what they wish for,” Young Voices’ Casey Given warned in the Washington Examiner. “Giving the government the power to impose blanket bans on things you don’t like will almost inevitably backfire when the other party takes power.” Banning pornography, he argued, “is a policy proposal straight out of the 1980s.” If a memo has gone out saying that policy proposals straight out of the 1980s are suddenly a bad thing within the modern American conservative movement, I have certainly missed it. (For whatever it is worth, the recipient of the GOP anti-pornography letter, Attorney General Barr, is for good or ill certainly a creature of the 1980s Right.)

I claim no special insights into pornography or what an ideal regulatory regime for it would look like, though I strongly suspect it would lie somewhere between a total ban and the right of the people to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Luckily, the intraconservative debate on this issue is only secondarily about the availability of porn. It is fundamentally about the proper role of government. “At some point conservatives decided that government should not be used to advance the common good,” the Daily Wire’s Walsh argued in his opening Twitter salvos against his libertarian brethren. “And at that point conservatism became limp, shallow, and ineffectual. It also divorced itself from its own intellectual history. And that in a nutshell is why the Left always wins.”

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Of all the debates roiling the Right at present—pro-Trump versus anti-Trump, higher immigration rates versus lower, more hawkish on foreign policy or less, nationalist or not, libertarians against everybody else—this renegotiation of the social conservatives’ place in the GOP coalition and broader conservative movement is among the most important. This is true even though this dispute is frequently conflated with the others: the new, more ambitious social conservatism is associated with Trump, the libertine defender of religious liberties; anyone on the Right who pushes back against the notion that conservatism, even in an American context, is wholly synonymous with classical liberalism is necessarily seen as a nationalist.

There is considerable overlap, of course. What the religious conservatives rebelling against former National Review senior editor Frank Meyer’s fusionism (which in effect defines conservatism as an attempt to reconcile economic libertarianism with social traditionalism) have in common with national conservatives and MAGA economic populists is a willingness to use the government to protect and advance their interests. All political coalitions do this, of course, even those which claim to be motivated entirely by abstract ideological principles. But these factions, ascendant under Trump (whose view of government is closer to Richard Nixon’s than Ronald Reagan’s, deregulation, tax cuts and episodic criminal justice reform notwithstanding), feel especially constrained by and vulnerable under the standard Republican playbook. They would at a minimum like to add some new chapters, at a maximum rewrite it entirely.

But social conservatives have always been an important part of the Republican electoral coalition, even before that term or the “Religious Right” were in use. They formed a large part of Nixon’s “Silent Majority” and George W. Bush’s “values voters,” virtually the whole of Reagan’s “Moral Majority,” the actual name of the elder Jerry Falwell’s now defunct political organization. White evangelicals alone supply at least a third of the votes accruing to Republican presidential candidates. Add traditionalist Catholics and other culturally conservative fellow travelers and it is difficult mathematically to envision how Republicans can win many elections without them.

Social conservatives have long been viewed—and have generally viewed themselves—as junior partners to economic conservatives inside the Republican Party. They get their voters to the polls to protest abortion and gay marriage. The elected Republicans then promptly cut taxes while Supreme Court precedents declaring abortion a constitutional right remain inviolate and new ones similarly enshrining gay marriage are added, even as conservative judges proliferate. The marriage issue was thought to be central to Bush’s reelection in 2004. By 2016, a slightly higher percentage of evangelicals ended up casting their ballots for Trump, who supports—or at least does not oppose—gay marriage. It is almost universally seen as a settled issue—and not settled in the social conservatives’ favor. 

Similarly, however much fusionism in theory was supposed to be equally committed to tradition and free markets, liberty and virtue, in practice it was seen primarily as a defense of free markets and constitutionally limited government. A manifesto published by First Things in March entitled “Against the Dead Consensus” (signed by TAC senior editor Rod Dreher and contributing editor Patrick Deneen, among others) laid out the charges. “Yes, the old conservative consensus paid lip service to traditional values,” the signatories wrote. “But it failed to retard, much less reverse, the eclipse of permanent truths, family stability, communal solidarity, and much else. It surrendered to the pornographization of daily life, to the culture of death, to the cult of competitiveness. It too often bowed to a poisonous and censorious multiculturalism.”

The definition of liberty embraced by the “dead consensus” isn’t minimal government per se, but a “public philosophy [that] now puts great stock in ‘the right to define one’s own concept of . . . the mystery of human life,’ as Justice Anthony Kennedy, the libertarian conservative par excellence, wrote while upholding the constitutional ‘right’ to abortion,” the old-school fusionism skeptics wrote. This goes a long way toward explaining why there is so much conservative criticism of libertarianism even as libertarians themselves don’t see any evidence of their own influence over bipartisan gargantuan government or frequently cite Planned Parenthood v. Casey as an influential text alongside The Road to Serfdom. Responding to a conservative critic of the manifesto, Ben Sixsmith dismissed the “liberalism of John Stuart Mill refracted through the conservatism of Frank Meyer, in a compromise that made sense in 1960 but is unworkable today.”

After the heady years of the Reagan boom, economic conservatism morphed from a source of middle-class tax relief—one of the reasons “tax cuts for the rich” was a less effective political charge then than now—into something not libertarian enough for actual libertarians and too libertarian for everyone else. If Paul Ryan’s ascension to the House speakership seemed to be the culmination of this strain of Republicanism, Trump appeared to augur its reversal: despite, or perhaps because of, his checkered past and unlikely pedigree, he was more orthodox on social issues than economic ones. Even the exceptions proved the rule. Where the Bush 2004 campaign relied on state defense-of-marriage ballot initiatives only to spend “political capital” on a failed bid to create “personal accounts” for Social Security once safely reelected, Trump abandoned even the pretense of opposing same-sex marriage—and also any Ryan-style entitlement reforms.

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It’s a standard trope of anti-Trump polemics on the Right as well as the Left that evangelicals hypocritically discarded their values in pursuit of political power by handing a thrice-married, twice-divorced, often profane reality TV star the presidency. The reality is more complicated, however. The organized Religious Right initially supported Ted Cruz over Trump. Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and other candidates also had strong pockets of social conservative support. In Iowa, Cruz beat Trump 34 percent to 22 percent among evangelicals. Rubio took another 21 percent, Carson 12 percent.

Trump had to identify and raise the profiles of his own religious boosters, in much the same way cable news networks had to find new pro-Trump pundits when a high percentage of their usual Republican stable turned out to be Never Trump. Robert Jeffries was no Ralph Reed; Jerry Falwell Jr. lacked his father’s political influence and did not succeed him as pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church (though his perch at Liberty University would prove important). In the primaries, Trump’s evangelical vote share tended to decline as those voters’ church attendance increased. His initial coalition included relative social liberals and self-described born-again Christians who went to church less frequently than some of the more conservative candidates’ supporters. Mormons never warmed to Trump.

As Trump careened toward the Republican nomination, he cultivated the constituencies that commanded votes. This included evangelicals and conservative Catholics as well as gun owners (the National Rifle Association, unlike some Religious Right groups, was actually an early adopter on Trump). Trump made promises to social conservatives on abortion, religious liberty, judicial appointments, and other issues of importance to them. He has largely kept those commitments. His general election opponent was Hillary Clinton, bête noire of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” for at least a quarter century. When social conservatives tried in the 1990s to make the argument that personal character mattered even more than policy, the voters resolved that question against them and in favor of Hillary’s husband three times—twice in national elections, once more in the fight over impeachment during the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Bill and Hillary Clinton never shared much of the religious conservatives’ policy agenda either, of course, though the former did sign into law the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act back when that was the popular position. Post-“Me Too,” some feminists now regret accepting the former president’s personal transgressions for the sake of policy goals and thwarting political opponents. Perhaps social conservatives will later harbor similar regrets about Trump, especially since many of them believe effects on the faith have eternal consequences beyond this life. The politicization of American evangelicalism, which certainly predated Trump, is driving some young believers away.

Yet the stakes for religious conservatives in these political battles is higher than who gets to be an assistant secretary in the Department of Education. The Democratic Party is drifting toward an understanding of religious liberty that protects private thoughts and personal worship practices—and little else. As former First Lady Michelle Obama said, “Our faith journey isn’t just about showing up on Sunday. It’s about what we do Monday through Saturday as well.” It is nevertheless increasingly difficult for religious hospitals and charities to help the wider community and interact with the government while remaining faithful to their beliefs. If you don’t wish to pay for contraception, participate in abortions, or promote alternatives to the traditional family, you may as well go out of business.

The groups ensnared by this newly crimped understanding of religious liberty are not overtly political organizations. They included Catholic Charities, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the Salvation Army. The three largest denominations in the United States—the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the United Methodist Church—do not recognize same-sex marriage. During his short-lived presidential candidacy, former representative Beto O’Rourke suggested such churches be stripped of their tax-exempt status. “There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us,” O’Rourke said. “And so as president, we’re going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.”

O’Rourke is an also-ran, but few top-tier Democratic presidential candidates could resist the logic of his position, even if they may ultimately still flinch from it for electoral reasons. The intersection of sexual orientation and antidiscrimination law raises difficult questions for religious liberty. If opposing same-sex marriage is morally or legally akin to racial discrimination, then it is hard to see how religious schools, charities, and other institutions can indefinitely avoid legal sanction. And gay marriage long ago ceased to be the most radical concept the sexual revolution asked traditional religious believers to publicly embrace. Even Chick-fil-A, a successful fast food chain that largely prevailed in the marketplace over the slew of liberal elected officials who have tried to keep its restaurants out of their cities, crumbled under pressure. What hope then is there for religious bakers and wedding photographers? There is also steady liberal resistance to affording orthodox Christians the same Religious Freedom Restoration Act-type protections they have long endorsed for religious and cultural minorities.

The ability to raise your child according to your faith and to live out what you believe your religion calls you to do is not a small thing, and it too has eternal implications. “If you want to fine Catholic hospitals for following Catholic teaching, or prevent Jewish parents from circumcising their sons, or ban Chick-fil-A in Boston, then don’t tell religious people that you respect our freedoms,” writes New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. “Say what you really think: that the exercise of our religion threatens all that’s good and decent, and that you’re going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will.”

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The intentions of the Religious Right in America have long varied. Some have simply wanted to defend faith, home, and family from the encroachments of the state. Grover Norquist has described conservative Christians as essentially a “parents rights” movement that is part of the “Leave Us Alone” coalition. But others have wanted to defend their version of public morality or even uphold a general Christian consensus in the United States, with varying degrees of tolerance for other faiths and nonbelievers.

As the Christian Coalition gained a foothold in state Republican organizations throughout the 1990s, the more libertarian conception of the Religious Right gradually won out. This trend was accelerated by a series of political defeats that left them with few other options. “Today’s talk of tolerance and acceptance of gay marriage will soon give way to intolerance and rejection of those who hold a traditional view of marriage,” Tim Carney wrote in the Washington Examiner back in 2013, before the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision was even handed down. “The next offensive in this culture war will involve wielding government to force individuals to accept the new definition of marriage, falsely invoking analogies to civil rights.”

Many LGBT Americans who only recently saw conservative Christians resisting the legal recognition of their unions are, perhaps understandably, unmoved by these new pleas for tolerance. When states like Indiana under Mike Pence’s governorship moved to pass laws granting protections to businesses whose owners adhere to the old definition of marriage, corporate boycotts ensued. The legislation and other policies like it were widely regarded as license for mass discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, essentially a Jim Crow policy that would bar gay people from pizza parlors and public acommodations. Pence crumbled under pressure and Republicans have subsequently struggled to find their footing on this issue.

Episodes such as this have not only convinced many social conservatives that the free market is an unreliable ally and that big business is often a culture war adversary. These incidents have also caused many traditionalists to see the limits of a libertarian strategy for defending their rights and their place in the public square. Ultimately, viewpoint neutrality—and the occasional successful lawsuit by a Christian florist or baker—only goes so far. Without some affirmative defense of Christian beliefs and their historic role in American culture, secularizing elites will eventually succeed in marginalizing social conservatism.

That is not to say that the new social conservatism is entirely about living out some theological mandate. Many of them are still motivated by worldly problems: the decline of the family, an epidemic of opioid deaths, rising social alienation and unhappiness. They have shifted from attempting to block cultural innovations like gay marriage (though many remain quietly opposed) to making it easier for people who so desire to have families and children. Steve Sailer urged in these pages that Republicans pursue a policy agenda of “affordable family formation” all the way back in Bush’s second term. Some Republicans, including ambitious ones like Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley, are starting to take up this mantle.

“A state that encourages marriage, for example, and insists that husbands and wives must have good reasons to seek divorce, need not be an austere, totalitarian one,” writes Ben Sixsmith. “This is, in fact, how the United States governed such matters through the 1950s. And in the hyper-commodified twenty-first century, a state that fails to encourage marriage is misgoverning.” Yet today even many conservatives in effect see the United States of the 1950s as a theocracy or, as one put it, “a Christian version of Saudi Arabia.” This too convinces many traditionalists that the old fusionism has failed and its early conservative critics like L. Brent Bozell may have had a point.

In the same essay, Sixsmith argued Meyer’s fusionism “made only superficial sense” and it was time for something else. “In the twenty-first-century West, we are afflicted with a mediocre libertinism, which is as unstable as it is unsatisfactory,” he continued. “We need a new conservative fusion, one that prioritizes social connection instead of atomization.”

Conservatives have contemplated a new fusionism before. Writing in the older, differently motivated First Things, Joseph Bottum argued for a union between social conservatism and foreign-policy activism with “Islamofascism” replacing communism as an ideological opponent. “The opponents of abortion and euthanasia insist there are truths about human life and dignity that must not be compromised in domestic politics,” he wrote. “The opponents of Islamofascism and rule by terror insist there are truths about human life and dignity that must not be compromised in international politics.” In 1991, Chronicles editor Thomas Fleming called for a new fusionism between libertarians and traditionalists that essentially excised the hawks following the end of the Cold War, bringing together the likes of TAC founding editor Patrick Buchanan and radical free-market economist Murray Rothbard.

What would a fusionism in which social conservatives ceased to be the junior partner look like? The pornography debate is instructive. One set of conservatives argued that anti-porn crusaders wanted the government to replace parents, and some traditionalists promptly fell into this trap. But what if the community, or even the government, can do something at the margins to make it easier for parents to keep their kids off Pornhub? A more liberatarian fusionism might reject it out of hand; a more traditionalist fusionism would not.

It won’t be an easy balance to achieve, especially since some traditionalists seem poised to go too far in the opposite, statist direction. State power can be wielded effectively to uphold a moral consensus against a dissenting minority. It is less clear it can effectively recreate that consensus in the face of a dissenting majority. Both libertarians and social conservatives may find that some of what the GOP has left undone on their policy fronts is simply politically unattainable. But politics, as this new intraconservative debate proves, isn’t static. Even conservatives change.  

W. James Antle III is editor of The American Conservative.