By Zach Hagadone
Party loyalty and loyalty to the person of the president are more important than ever to Republicans, as House Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., continue to press forward with an impeachment inquiry stemming from President Donald Trump’s apparent attempt to solicit foreign help against his chief 2020 election opponent, former-Vice President Joe Biden and his family.
Amid a flood of revelations in recent weeks that Trump leveraged military and monetary support for Ukraine unless President Voldymyr Zelensky supported a probe into the Bidens’ business dealings in the eastern European country — followed closely by Trump’s on-camera appeal to China for a similar investigation — the question of whether congressional Republicans will cross the aisle to support impeachment has run like a red thread through the resulting impeachment drama.
Yet some GOPers have broken, or at least strained, ranks with the head of their party.
Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, who rancorously squared off against Trump for the Republican nomination in 2016, directly condemned Trump’s calls to foreign governments for action against the Bidens, writing in a Tweet on Oct. 4 that, “By all appearances, the President’s brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling.”
Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse stated to the Omaha World-Herald that “Americans don’t look to Chinese commies for the truth. If the Biden kid broke laws by selling his name to Beijing, that’s a matter for American courts, not communist tyrants running torture camps.”
On Oct. 5, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins told the Bangor Daily News, “I thought the president made a big mistake by asking China to get involved in investigating a political opponent. It’s completely inappropriate.”
Idaho’s all-Republican congressional delegation, however, has stood behind Trump.
“Having recently reviewed the whistleblower report and telephone call transcripts between President Trump and Ukraine President Zelensky, I believe the objective observer will not only find there is no impeachable offense, but that former Vice President Biden has much to answer for,” Rep. Russ Fulcher said in a statement emailed Oct. 4 to the Sandpoint Reader.
No evidence has ever surfaced that the Bidens’ activities in China or Ukraine were illegal, though news media including The Intercept, Washington Post and The New York Times have carried reporting and opinion pieces pointing out that the family has certainly profited off its political connections.
According to a Sept. 26 statement from Sen. Jim Risch’s office, “The transcript of [the call] and whistleblower report related to President Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Zelensky were not compelling to me, after reviewing both. We heard all kinds of allegations of arm-twisting and bullying, and it’s just not there. I know evidence when I see it, and the Democrats are going to need more than this if they want to build an impeachment case. But, don’t take my word for it — every American should read the report, which is easily understood, and make up his or her own mind.”
A spokesperson for Risch told the Reader that the senator had nothing to add regarding Trump’s China appeal or Romney’s comment of Oct. 4.
Sen. Mike Crapo, who temporarily withdrew his support for the then-candidate following the so-called Access Hollywood tape in 2016, in which Trump could be heard bragging about sexual assault, took a more procedural view of the impeachment inquiry in a Sept. 24 tweet, writing, “I always prefer Congress remain a legislative body that advances legislation to benefit the American people. As to the question of impeachment, our entire legal system is dependent on our ability to find the truth. I will wait for further information regarding the facts of this matter and refrain from speculating on any outcomes of this discussion and process.”
Asked for further comment on Oct. 4, Crapo’s office also said the senator had nothing to add at the time.
A request for comment to Rep. Mike Simpson’s office went unanswered, though the longtime Idaho congressman had this to say in a statement reported Sept. 24 by Boise TV station KTVB:
“Democrats have been threatening to impeach President Trump before he was sworn into office. To date, I have seen nothing that warrants impeachment, and there have certainly been ample opportunities to analyze their many accusations during their countless investigations. However, they have their constitutional right to proceed in their relentless endeavor. I, for one, believe the American people deserve more from their elected officials. Our country faces real issues including immigration reform, cyber-security, and funding the federal government for fiscal year 2020 which starts next week, and we should be focused on those things.”
Throughout his tumultuous first term, Trump has consistently received steadfast support from Idaho conservatives. Though the state went for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2016 primary election, it delivered Trump a nearly 60% victory over Hillary Clinton in the general. According to the Idaho Politics Weekly blog, Idaho remains solid Trump country. While he enjoys fervid support from his base nationwide, Idahoans back the president more than most. Based on a recent Cook Political Report, Idaho is the fourth-most Republican state in the country, with a partisan voting index of R19+, or 19% more than the state-by-state average. Only Wyoming, Oklahoma and Utah lean more heavily toward the GOP.
Likewise, as reported by political polling website morningconsult.com, Trump’s net approval rating as of September 2019 was 20% higher in the Gem State than the average among states — outranked only by Alabama and Mississippi.
But standing behind the president as the impeachment storm breaks all around him is getting harder and harder for some Republicans.
As The Washington Post reported Oct. 6, “A torrent of impeachment developments has triggered a reckoning in the Republican Party, paralyzing many of its officeholders as they weigh their political futures, legacies and, ultimately, their allegiance to a president who has held them captive.”
Quoting an unnamed former senior administration official, the Post wrote, “‘Nobody wants to be the zebra that strays from the pack and gets gobbled up by the lion.’”
And lion-like Trump has been in the past week, mounting a full-throated counterattack including a vow that his administration will not cooperate with the inquiry, blocking the U.S. ambassador to the European Union from testifying at a House impeachment deposition on Capitol Hill and calling for the outing of a whistleblower who revealed Trump’s July 25 call to Zelensky.
Now, national news media is reporting a second intelligence community whistleblower has come forward verifying and adding detail to the initial insider complaint, and China formally rejected Trump’s request for a Biden probe Oct. 8, when a Foreign Ministry spokesman told the South China Morning Post — perhaps not without some irony — “China has long pursued the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. We have no intention of intervening in the domestic affairs of the United States.”
For Fulcher, the issue remains rooted in electoral politics, rather than the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that would imperil the president’s position:
“To understand the real motivation behind the current House action toward impeachment, look no further than this quote from two days ago, by the current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, ‘If we don’t impeach the President, he will get re-elected.’”
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