Saturday, April 22, 2017

Chaffetz and Nunes-- Which One Is Heading For Disgrace And Which For A Job At Fox?


I couldn't make it to Visalia for the anti-devon Nunes town hall at the College of the Sequoias on Wednesday. (Good excuse-- I had to spend the day at City of Hope working with my doctor on a marijuana protocol for the chronic cough that got left behind after a post-stem cell replacement operation bout of pneumonia. All these medicines aren't working; marijuana oil is.) Anyway... good people don't use marijuana but I missed the Nunes-without-Nunes shindig. About 150 people did show up, constituents according to them but "a bunch of left-wing activists" according to Nunes. They invited him to the event and he replied by insulting them. He claimed the event was designed to make him look bad, but could anyone have made him look as bad as Trump already has?
“We aren’t here to scream at him,” said Natasha Moiseyev of Central Valley Indivisible, one of the organizers. “It’s not a fringe left gathering of crazies. We want to get the facts out and speak respectfully. We are dying for a conversation. We have questions and we would like answers.”

...The event was hosted by Together We Will-- Fresno/Central Valley and Central Valley Indivisible, and the costs were covered by Health Access California, according to organizers.

Organizers asked speakers to announce their ZIP codes to show that they lived in Nunes’ 22nd Congressional District.

The format Wednesday consisted of presentations-- including mention of Nunes’ voting record and public statements-- about health care, immigration and government transparency and accountability, followed by questions and statements from people in the audience.

Marsha Comant of Fresno, a delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, said if Nunes were there she’d tell him “people in the district without health care will die. This is my question: Do you not care?”

Celeste Cook, 63, a retired teacher from Visalia, led a brief chant of “Not Nunes” as the elected representative in Congress.

Some of the most emotional moments came from advocates of immigration law reform for so-called Dreamers-- young adults brought to the United States as children-- to get legalized.

“These are some the hardest working, most bright people I’ve ever met,” said Alexander Flores, a University of California, Berkeley, graduate in English literature. “They’re scared ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) will arrest them.” He said he’d say to Nunes, “Will you protect my friends? Will you protect my community from being torn apart?”

Jose Sigala, a Tulare City Council member elected in November, said the event demonstrates that town hall meetings are needed in a democracy.

“I am excited about the momentum that has developed to hold our elected officials accountable,” he said.

But getting support for them from fellow elected officials can be hard, he said. Sigala said he asked the Tulare council to put on its agenda an item about sending a letter asking Nunes to hold a town hall in his hometown. The council split 2-2, with one absent, so the topic won’t be on the agenda.

Republicans have largely avoided town hall meetings on recent visits home. Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, for instance, held one-on-one meetings in Hanford with constituents.

The 22nd Congressional district that Nunes represents includes Tulare, Visalia, Reedley, Clovis and part of Fresno. It’s considered a safe Republican district with 43-33 percent Republican to Democratic registration.

Last year, Nunes won re-election last year with 68 percent of the vote. He was first elected to Congress in 2002.

He’s been in the national news lately as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a strong supporter of President Donald Trump. But he stepped aside from a probe of alleged Russian interference in the presidential election amid intense criticism over his late-night visit to the White House to review purported intelligence documents with the assistance of White House staff.

Retired music teacher Carole Greening of Visalia said she attended the town hall event to send him a message.

“I want him representing the ordinary people,” she said. “He’s in Washington representing the richest people in our area. He goes where the money is. We’re the people in his district. He needs to pay attention to us.”
It's Pelosi's dogged policy to not allow the DCCC to challenge Republican House leaders or committee chairs and Nunes has never had a serious challenge for reelection. Younger fed up Democrats in Congress are working to make sure than regardless of Pelosi's bullshit, Nunes will have a challenge in 2018. Another top candidate for Democratic ire was Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), but as you know, he announced this week that he won't be seeking reelection and then said he's thinking of resigning altogether. Wants to spend more time with the family! That usually needs something's up. Yesterday, the Deseret News set tongues in Salt Lake City and DC wagging... if you could get beyond the GOP propaganda in the first couple of paragraphs. The infamous Chaffetz town-hall in Cottonwood Heights, engineered by Chaffetz to be as far from the heart of his district and as close to leftists as he could get, included protesters "masked and dressed in black. They worried Chaffetz most. They carried guns and, he would later learn, were prowling the parking lot trying to find his car." This is the substitute most Americans get instead of actual journalism.
[H]e parlayed his rising visibility into a chairmanship of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which he used to go after Planned Parenthood, Hillary Clinton and other favorite punching bags of the right. He became the most high-profile antagonist of the Obama administration, the tormentor-in-chief, and in the final weeks of the campaign he vowed that he would continue to investigate Clinton for using an unclassified email server, improperly staffing the embassy in Benghazi, and any other possible crimes, whether she won re-election or not.

Then Donald Trump got elected and everything changed.

“Trump getting elected was the worst possible thing for him,” says one Utah political insider. “Under a Hillary Clinton presidency, he would have had a nightly gig on Fox News. It would have been Crooked Hillary every night. Instead he got Trump.”

Had Clinton won, Chaffetz would have used the platform to attack the administration at every turn, the subpoena power literally resting in the pen in his pocket. But now, he was suddenly limited by demands to play team ball for a team that was already struggling, fumbling health care right out of the gate. And whatever Trump and the fractious House Republicans did, he would be held accountable, even though he would have little control.

And if the town hall was any indication, he was already being held accountable for his team’s performance. His approval rating in the 3rd District had dropped by 14 points since the election, according to an April Dan Jones and Associates poll.

Money, mostly from out-of-state, had started to pour in for a Democratic challenger with no political experience named Kathryn Allen. Allen had only raised $20,000 in an exploratory account and then her campaign went viral when Chaffetz went on CNN in early March and made one of his most embarrassing gaffes trying to sell the Republican overhaul of Obamacare.

"Americans have choices, and they've got to make a choice," he said. "So rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.” In less than a week, Allen’s campaign war chest had skyrocketed to $410,000.

It’s unlikely Allen or any Democrat would have beaten Chaffetz, who still had a 72 percent approval rating in his district, but the amount of money Allen had raised suggested that for the first time since his election, Chaffetz would actually have to campaign and spend a good chunk of the next year aggressively fundraising, a chore he’s never enjoyed. The campaign could get costly, loud and bruising. And for someone who had much greater ambitions than the House, it could do lasting damage to his brand.

Chaffetz says the decision not to run came down to family, and there’s no doubt that was a factor. His wife, Julie, always made a point of never complaining, never being an obstacle to his aspirations, insiders say, but the strain and isolation were wearing on her, and Chaffetz said it was time for him to spend more time with family now that he and Julie were nearly empty nesters.

Among political insiders in Utah and Washington, there was widespread speculation Thursday that Chaffetz was stepping down because of a scandal, and that word of his resignation was imminent. Chaffetz told Politico news of a scandal was “absolutely, positively not” true.

“Not in any way, shape or form,” he told Politico. “I’ve been given more enemas by more people over the last eight years than you can possibly imagine. From the Secret Service to the Democratic Party. I am who I am. If they had something really scandalous, it would’ve come out a long, long time ago.”

And yet, it’s hard to imagine Chaffetz truly stepping away from the spotlight. This is a man who appears on TV so willingly and so often he carries two earpieces with him for live interviews and has the names of Fox News hosts programmed into his phone. As the New York Times recently put it, he practically rushes “toward television cameras with an eager smile.”

Chaffetz’s announcement came the same day Fox News announced it was severing ties with Bill O’Reilly, its most popular host. When asked Wednesday about rumors Fox has offered Chaffetz a hosting gig, he demurred. “None of that can come to fruition until you actually go forward and make this announcement,” Chaffetz said. “Then you can pursue what these opportunities might be.”

Chaffetz hasn’t revealed how long he's going to stay in office, but he probably won’t remain chairman of his committee. A Fox hosting gig would be lucrative-- Sean Hannity makes many millions each year-- and it would provide Chaffetz the sort of platform he had on the committee during the Obama years but with an even wider audience. By 2020 he’d be perfectly poised to run for office again. Already the page for redirects to And that might not be the full extent of Chaffetz’s ambitions. Two weeks ago, Chaffetz’s campaign committee registered domains for a possible presidential run: and

It’s unlikely this is the end of Jason Chaffetz’s political career, but if his abrupt announcement is a pivot to something bigger and better, what is it? More importantly, how and why did someone so ambitious walk away from one of the most high-profile positions in American politics?

A month or so before Chaffetz announced he wouldn’t seek re-election, he was in Washington on his way to dinner with two reporters. He checked his phone, where he keeps apps for his favorite restaurants: McDonald’s, Dominos and Five Guys. Tonight, he wanted Five Guys. The apps sped things up, he explained, at least in theory. He could order his favorite burger while his press secretary, MJ Henshaw, drove. The apps also saved money. He was always finding deals on the McDonald’s app.

Except tonight the apps weren’t working, and Chaffetz was getting mildly annoyed. As Henshaw slowed for a motorcade of blacked out SUVs, Chaffetz looked up.

“Looks like Mike Pence,” he said. “We love Mike Pence.”

“Would you rather Pence were president?” a reporter in the back seat asked.

Chaffetz nervously chuckled and changed the subject.

At Five Guys, Chaffetz ordered a burger and a jumbo-sized carton of fries and tucked his large frame into a small corner table. He talked with great enthusiasm about how much he loved fast food and how often he ate out of vending machines. He ate out of the one in the basement of his office in the Rayburn Building so often he had the number memorized for his favorite Hostess cupcakes.

Chaffetz seems determined to push the image of the everyman, the guy who eats out of vending machines and drives a truck, even though he lives in one of the most expensive zip codes in Utah and wears camo not to hunt, but to take pictures of wildlife. Every politician has an image, a brand they’d like to push, and this is Chaffetz’s: the tightwad congressman who sleeps on a cot to save his constituents money (even though it actually saves him money). The cot has become his most reliable prop in self-branding, and it still comes up in pretty much every profile written about him, but the thing is, it’s actually uncomfortable, and he said he’s getting a little tired of sleeping on it.

“I’m turning 50 and I’m sleeping on a cot,” he said. “Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate my life.”

Chaffetz seemed constrained by the image he’d created for himself. If he was governor, he could sleep in his own bed.

“I say I’m a definite maybe,” Chaffetz said of running for governor. “You also think about when you hang up the cleats, too. I’m not a lifer. I’m just not.”

It had become clear to him he would have a hard time rising any higher in the House. Two years before, he’d thrown his hat in the ring for speaker, testing the water and he got crickets.

He seemed wistful when asked if another run for speaker was in the cards, as if he wanted it, but couldn’t imagine it happening.

“I don’t know how I would get from here to there,” he said. “I would have to do some things that are very hard. And I’m up for hard and difficult, but I would have to be a prolific fundraiser. That’s part of it. Never say never, but only a handful of people in the nation have ever been able to pull that off. It’s harder than anybody thinks.”

Chaffetz was also struggling to find his footing as oversight chairman in a Republican administration. “I think most people, including myself, expect me to hold the Trump administration to the same high standard, of course they do.”

He pointed out that he had, in fact, opened a number of inquiries into the Trump administration, including Trump’s lease of the Old Post Office building (which Trump turned in to a Trump hotel), and Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia, but he’d left most of the heavy lifting on possible collusion with the Russians to the House Intelligence Committee, which had frustrated the Democrat Elijah Cummings, the ranking member on the oversight committee.

“When it comes to Russian interference issues, it’s hard for me to tell whether it's his own beliefs that he should not look into that too deeply, or whether that is also coming from higher-ups. I don’t know. I can’t tell,” Cummings said. “… We’ve sent all types of letters to Chaffetz trying to get him to join in on the various things. And he says he wants to wait to see if something is going to go wrong. I keep telling them, I say, ‘Chaffetz, you keep saying we will cross that bridge when we get to it, and as each little thing happens, I keep telling them, we’re on the bridge.’”

Tom Davis, who chaired the oversight committee during the George W. Bush administration, said the very nature of the chairmanship was political, and there was no way Chaffetz could avoid it. “Your job is to over-investigate when the other party is in power and under-investigate when your party is in power,” Davis says. “Part of his job is to protect the quarterback.”

Gowdy, a fellow member of oversight committee, agreed with Davis. If Chaffetz got too aggressive to appease the Do Your Job! crowd back home, his party could turn on him, Davis said.

Chaffetz shook his head when he heard this.

“No, heaven’s no,” he says. “The quickest way to lose all the credibility I’ve built over eight years is to give Donald Trump a pass. That’s not my job... We need to call balls and strikes as we see them.”

...The last three times one party held the Senate, House and presidency, they lost in the midterms, and if history holds, that may happen again.

If Democrats were to take the House, Chaffetz would have been reduced to ranking member on the oversight committee, playing the role of foil and defender for Trump, but mostly having to go along with a committee now doing to the bidding of Democrats who would like nothing more than to see Trump lose re-election, or face impeachment.

By getting out now, Chaffetz clears the path for other Republicans to run in the 3rd District, and by making it clear he won’t run for Senate either, donors can decide if they want to bet on Hatch for one more term, or back Mitt Romney, who is being pushed to enter the race.

Politically, at least, Chaffetz’s most likely path seems the governorship. “My guess is he wants to start rebuilding a base for (governor) in 2020,” a Utah political heavyweight says. “No member of Congress has been elected Utah governor in recent years-- maybe ever-- though many have tried. His PR instincts probably tell him that he can't be seen as coming straight from Congress, therefore some distancing before things get serious.”

Despite the public hectoring Chaffetz got at the town hall, the death threats, the zingers from late night talk show hosts and Saturday Night Live writers, conventional wisdom is that he’d have a good shot of winning in a race for Utah governor, even against Josh Romney, who some see as inexperienced and unqualified. While Chaffetz was initially seen as a policy lightweight, more interested in attention than actually getting anything done, that perception has changed, and he’s now seen as a serious politician with a strong grasp of policy.

“I had initially been pretty skeptical of him,” said someone in the governor’s office who requested anonymity. “But I’ve become very impressed. He’s very intelligent and articulate.”

Then again, maybe Chaffetz is serious about a return to the private sector. On Thursday afternoon, rumors circulated he planned to announce his retirement, and he told Politico he’d already started looking for a job, hoping to “link up with a television network.”

“I started poking around to see what I might be worth and what sort of possibilities are there,” Chaffetz said. “And I got a series of ‘Let us know when you’re serious.’ Well now I can say, ‘Can you tell I am serious?’”

Perhaps a Fox deal is already in hand. Joe Scarborough left Congress to become a TV host at MSNBC, and it didn’t kill his political career. As recently as the last election, his name was floated as a potential vice presidential candidate for the Trump ticket.

As for when Chaffetz might leave Congress, only he knows.

“I might depart early. It’s not tomorrow, it’s not next week," he told Politico. "If it is, it’s going to be in the months to come.”

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