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Trump Acquittal, Assembly Crossover, and Redistriciting: Political Analysis for Friday, February 7, 2020

A cartoon image of Craig Carper and Jeff Schapiro with a microphone between them.

Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM news director Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include reactions to Trump's acquittal from Virginia lawmakers, crossover in the General Assembly, and plans for redistricting.

Phil Liles:  The Virginia legislature is lurching toward the midpoint of the 2020 session. This is called crossover. The House and Senate finish up their own bills and start working on each other's or maybe that's working over. [laughing] Here to discuss it in the week of Virginia politics is Craig Carper, VPM’s News Director, and Jeff Schapiro, political columnist with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and good morning to both of you.  Now Craig, Donald Trump's unpopularity in Virginia has shaped politics since 2016, and his acquittal by the Senate this week should be no different.

Craig Carper:  That's right, Phil. Good morning and good morning, Jeff.

Jeff Schapiro:  Hi there.

Carper:  As Phil said, the state's two democratic senators both voted to remove the president and their votes say very different things about both of them.

Schapiro:  Tim Kaine, of course the vice-presidential nominee in 2016 on the Hillary Clinton led ticket that was defeated by Trump and Mike Pence.  Kaine is a great believer in the innate integrity of the presidency as an institution, and this is something that Kaine says Trump has compromised through this Ukraine scheme and by blocking Congress from fully investigating it.  Now, there's no doubt that Tim Kaine is a partisan, a full-on partisan.  This is a guy who was chairman of the Democratic National Committee when he was governor.  I think one of the things that was on display in the Senate the other day with Kaine is his optimism seemed greatly diminished.  He cast Trump's conduct in very dark terms and in explaining his vote to convict the president, these Kaine’s words, “Unchallenged evil spreads like a virus.  We have allowed a toxic president to infect the Senate and warp its behavior, and acquittal will lead to worse conduct.” Now Mark Warner, the senior senator, has had lots of issues with Trump, even before Trump achieved the presidency.  Warner, of course, the cochairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which looked into the Russian attack on the 2016 election.  And its latest report, released yesterday, faulted the Obama administration and the GOP leadership in the Senate for not responding forcibly to the Russians’ meddling.  Now in his floor speech, Warner said that it was up to the Senate to uphold, these are his words, “the bedrock American principle that no one is above the law, not even the president, especially not the president.”  Look at this in the context of what Warner is doing right now, running for a third term.  He's unlikely to have serious opposition.  That means Trump in effect will become Warner's opponent.  That will keep Democrats energized in this deeply anti-Trump state.  And absent really serious opposition, Warner could run up the score.  That might help some of those potentially threatened down-ticket congressional Democrats - Abigail Spanberger here in the Richmond area and Elaine Luria in South Hampton Roads.

Carper:  Right, and back to Richmond in the approach to crossover, the start of the downhill side of the General Assembly session.  Multiple reminders that this is not your father's Virginia nor your grandfather's.

Schapiro:  Ah yes, the General Assembly is far more reflective of the moderate to liberal suburban-dominated state that Virginia has become.  Just look at what's been moving through the legislature.  The House and Senate passed anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Virginians.  Not surprisingly, they went through on party line votes.  The Senate today is likely to say that localities should decide the fate of all those Confederate monuments.  House and Senate are backing restrictions on high-interest instant loans, the payday loans among them. Democrats clearly are satisfying this pent up demand.  There are some very touchy issues among them.  Proposals do away with the right to work law.  On the House side it was barely approved in a committee, and it could die in another.  Ditto on removing the restriction on collective bargaining for public employees.  Legalization of weed, that was pushed to a study, however, decriminalization seems to be moving through purposefully.  House and Senate adopting very light fines for possessions of small amounts of marijuana, a half ounce or less.

Carper:  Alright, just about a minute left, Jeff.  It's starting to look as if the new Democratic majority might break a big promise, and that is to take the politics out of legislative and congressional redistricting.

Schapiro:  Yeah, this week it looked like there was a deal between House and Senate Democrats, but that fell apart.  There was a package of three bills that included this constitutional amendment.  That's got the House Democrats all revved up.  They don't like that the courts, the Supreme Court, could end up drawing district lines if the House and Senate through this independent commission can't agree.  They're worried that with the court, as they say, “stacked” with conservative Republicans, that this is a way for the GOP, even in the minority, to sort of take back redistricting.  We'll have to see what happens.  The Senate is okay with this constitutional amendment.  The governor says there may be other ways to skin a cat.  This seems to have a lot to do, his wishy-washiness, if you will, has a lot to do with staying in the good graces of the legislative minority caucus, which worries that it will be losing power if it loses control of redistricting.  The speaker is similarly wishy-washy, and I think that this is a payback for the support of black Democrats.  They clearly want something in return for their support, and that presumably includes resisting independent redistricting.

Carper:  Alright, thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Jeff, we will catch up again next week.

Schapiro:  Good weekend to you.

Carper:  You as well.

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