As the House Is About to Vote, Attention Moves to the Senate
It seems that all of Washington is already treating the impeachment process as a done deal, but the House isn’t voting until today on formal adoption.
There will be one more televised round of the same opposing arguments and some arm-twisting by Republicans who are not going to give the content the time of day before rejecting it.
It will be a Day in History, but one that provides no lasting winners.
There is a sense of true, uncomforting nastiness, of dismissive disdain, in the remarks from Republican Congress members of both houses toward Democrats. There is a real sense of bruise that the charges are even being drawn at all.
And for Democrats, there is real futility in pursuing a right cause that is doomed and that seems to be losing public support.
Republicans are blaming Democrats for investigating, rather than Donald Trump for actually doing something loathsome.
It is a foregone conclusion among the same Republicans criticizing their Democratic opponents that they, as the Senate majority, will clear Donald Trump of both charges.
Once the two impeachment charges finally were announced, once Trump and defenders offered their spin, we were left with this:
The defense of this president is that House Democrats are too quick to judgment, not that the campaign to lean on Ukraine for personal political purposes never happened. And that the president has the right to do whatever is alleged because, well, the president can do whatever he wants – at least when he has a Republican Senate backing him up. Oh, and the whole thing is a hoax.
Essentially, House Republican defenders argued that the impeachment charges reflected a foregone conclusion to a long-simmering distaste for Trump.
Make of the case against Trump what you will, but know this: That defense is about to be repeated in the Senate – only in reverse in procedure, logic and, importantly, majority. It is a foregone conclusion among the same Republicans criticizing their Democratic opponents that they, as the Senate majority, will clear Trump of both charges.
Only the Republicans now are the ones to say we can move quickly, without witnesses, with little to demand in the way of explanation. It is the opposite of how they have argued until now.
There is a lot of fight left to be had, of course, about the rules, the procedures, the timing and which witnesses are allowed to spend hours under a microscope for having reported wrongdoing.
But the outcome is a foregone conclusion.
Roberts in Charge
I wonder how Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., perennial defender of the independent role of the judiciary, will handle a rigged trial?
So far, all indications are that the Senate can set it own rules, which means that while party leaders Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) vie over those still-unsettled procedural issues, it will be McConnell who prevails.
And he is promising to work hand in glove with the White House.
So, we have the defendant in this process setting the rules, deciding on witnesses, timing, length of trial and the rest. Were McConnell left independent, he may have floated other possibilities, like a censure vote that would leave Trump in the White House and would have avoided the unpleasantness of daily trial proceedings on television.
McConnell has a different agenda than does Trump, who wants only total exoneration and the use of this Senate trial to politically torture Joe and Hunter Biden while redirecting the blame of 2016 election campaign interference on Ukrainians rather than Russians.
But McConnell needs to worry about keeping a Republican majority in next year’s election – where the re-election campaigns of Republican incumbents in Maine, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina already are considered too tight for comfort.
Their votes on impeachment in increasingly purple electoral states may seal their fates and switch the majority.
So, more than Trump’s own fate is hanging in the balance. A change in the Senate would mean an end to the Wall, to conservative judges, to giving the next president, whether Trump or a Democrat to be named, a free pass.
These rules to be settled will decide whether the Bidens and the whistleblower can be called. Of course, if that witness box opens beyond lawyer statements, the various conspiracists can be called as witnesses and protected executive branch officials like Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton and Office of Budget and Management folks finally could face public questions.
So, don’t expect any witnesses – ironically, just the complaint of House Judiciary Committee Republicans.
The Facts of the Matter
There seems no question that Trump, his attorney and agent Rudy Giuliani, and administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo:
…Made contacts with Ukrainians before and after their election;
…Removed the U.S. ambassador for being unduly prim and proper;
…Replaced her with “three amigos”–Ambassadors Gordon Sondland and Kurt Volker and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry—working through Giuliani to get the new Ukrainian president to agree to announcing a re-opened investigation of the Bidens;
…And withheld White House meetings and military aid to pressure for the political dirt.
At the end of the day, either Trump was running a rogue operation for his own benefit or he was making Giuliani an unvetted agent of the White House and State Department to run the operation.
Either way, it was an abuse of office. And it was not about the wording of a single phone call, but rather a months-long campaign festooned with conspiracy theories, debunked information, the liberal use of innuendo and insult.
The pattern of resisting questioning and oversight obviously is well understood and of long standing. Trump not only resists oversight in this case, as is charged, but in providing answers to a long list of policy issues and administrative orders.
The general line of Republican defense has remained about the how of impeachment rather than its central tenets.
From the whistleblower to Democratic Intelligence and Judiciary Committee procedures, Republicans object to how we got to this point, indicating that they would have stopped the inquiry earlier if they had their way, or, alternatively, called the Bidens to show that he, too, committed abuse of his office as vice president to land his son a job, which both Bidens deny and no one else confirms.
In any event, calling the Bidens doesn’t explain Trump’s bad behavior. Nor does underscoring that the original whistleblower account explains the Giuliani campaign for the president.
Republicans could do a lot to help here, even if they do not want to oust Trump. They could skip the “foregone conclusion” long enough to confirm that bad behavior did occur.