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On and Off the Record, Republican Senators Are Consistent on Impeachment

Then—President Donald Trump listens to a question from reporters next to then—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 26, 2019. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

One year from today, somebody takes the oath of office to be president — either the current president for another term, or someone new. In today’s news: a sense of what Republican senators really think about impeachment; Lobby Day comes to Virginia’s state capitol; and the New York Times editorial board makes their decision about whom to endorse in the Democratic primary.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Thank God he came along when he did.

What Republican Senators Really Think about Impeachment

When you get a chance to talk to a Republican senator off the record, you feel like you’re about to get the juicy inside scoop — particularly when the topic is something as big and consequential as impeachment.

Then reality sets in and you realize that what a senator thinks off the record is pretty much the same as what the senator says on the record.

This may not shock you, but it turns out that behind closed doors, and when they’re assured they will not be identified or quoted directly . . . pro-Trump Republican senators still aren’t convinced the president should be impeached. There are no signs of doubt, inner conflict, guilt, wavering, or any other indication that they fear they would be doing the wrong or unwise course by voting against removal. They largely concur with President Trump’s assessment that this impeachment is a partisan vendetta, a last-minute substitution for the impeachment over Russia that special counsel Robert Mueller was supposed to gift-wrap and hand-deliver. These senators haven’t forgotten the previous votes on impeachment or other signals like Rashida Tlaib’s off-color rallying cry and T-shirt marketing gimmick. They believe that this is ultimately driven by a portion of the Democratic party that simply cannot accept the results of the 2016 election — that this is a continuation of a years-long argument.

These senators would deny the accusation that they’ve reached a conclusion before the trial starts, of course. They intend to pay close attention to all of the proceedings and take copious notes. They contend they’re treating the impeachment process seriously — more seriously, they argue, than their colleagues who have spent the past few years furiously denouncing the president in every conceivable way and who now are implausibly pledging to be objective and impartial. One senator wondered whether any of the presidential candidates in the Senate will rush to Iowa on their lone day off each week and lead chants of something like, “Trump must go!” — and then put the “impartial juror” hat back on upon returning to Washington.

When pressed, Republican senators concede that Trump should choose his words more carefully, or that there was something worth criticizing in Trump’s approach regarding Ukraine, although they don’t dwell on that point for very long. They think the question of whether Trump’s actions warranted some lesser rebuke, like a resolution of censure, is moot because many House Democrats always desired impeachment.

Pro-Trump Republican senators contend their home-state constituents oppose impeachment — not just loyal Republicans, but CNN-watching independents as well. They describe constituents back home who see impeachment as a waste of time and a distraction from working on real issues. As they see it, impeachment is hurting the Democratic party among independents and centrists, and they wonder if the party has consciously or subconsciously decided to write off those voters and bet everything in 2020 in huge and enthusiastic turnout among their base. But they also doubt the 2020 elections will turn on the issue of impeachment — that ten months is a long time to keep grassroots enthusiasm ramped up.

The senators’ opinion of House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff, one of the impeachment managers, is barely better than that of the president. They simply don’t trust Schiff at all, and feel they have ample reason to not believe anything he says — from his decision to read a parody version of the transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky out loud during a hearing, to reports that the whistleblower met with Schiff’s committee before the whistleblower’s complaint was filed, to the chairman’s slippery-at-best description of his interactions with the whistleblower.

Asked about witnesses, one GOP senator wants to hear from Schiff and the whistleblower, adding that the label “whistleblower” may not accurately describe that government official’s role in this process. If the Senate is going to hear witnesses, GOP senators definitely want to hear from Hunter Biden. They strongly believe that the vice president’s son and Burisma Holdings engaged in something shady and perhaps illegal, and that the president was right to want it investigated. They look forward to seeing Hunter Biden answering questions about his arrangement and interactions under oath.

Pro-Trump GOP senators see the case that Democrats assembled and laid out before the House vote as a mess.

They can’t believe House Democrats want to introduce new evidence against the president, want to add new witnesses who didn’t testify during the House hearings, and may even add a new, third article of impeachment. (Nancy Pelosi’s lawyer, Douglas Letter, told the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that the addition of a third article of impeachment was “on the table, there is no doubt.”) To Republicans, these statements amount to an admission by House Democrats that the impeachment process was rushed and completed before the investigation was properly finished.

Republican senators think that House speaker Nancy Pelosi compounded those problems by delaying sending over the articles of impeachment for three weeks in an unsuccessful attempt to pressure Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to agree to rules that Democrats wanted. They point to the public complaints about the delay from Senators Dianne Feinstein of California, Jon Tester of Montana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Chris Coons of Delaware as a sign that even Democrats couldn’t see any logic in Pelosi’s strategy.

The general sense of these senators is that the trial will take a couple of weeks, with or without witnesses.

At this time, pro-Trump GOP senators say they don’t believe any of their Republican colleagues will vote to remove the president. While no GOP senator has yet called for Trump’s removal from office, Senators Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Susan Collins of Maine have been the senators most likely to defy the party’s consensus in the past. Pro-Trump GOP senators predict, with surprising confidence, there’s a strong chance that Manchin, Doug Jones of Alabama, and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona will vote against removal. (I doubt that all three flip, but if they did and Republicans remained united, impeachment would fail, 56–44. The article of impeachment against Bill Clinton for obstruction of justice received 50 votes, and the one on perjury received 45 votes. At this point, it is likely that both articles against Trump will finish somewhere between those totals.)

Republican senators express all of this skepticism of the impeachment argument, but also insist that they’re taking it seriously — more seriously, in fact, than those prosecuting this case.

Lobby Day Arrives in Virginia

By the time you read this, Virginia state government’s Lobby Day will be well underway. Hopefully there is no trouble; as of this writing, everyone is peaceably assembling and the day is going as everyone would hope. Governor Ralph Northam is enacting unprecedented emergency security measures because he fears racists will be in attendance. (Pause for irony.) Some voices in the media are comparing the event to the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. Hopefully it will be nothing like that; I note that the second “Unite the Right” rally held in Washington a year later had “approximately two dozen” attendees.

Please read my friend Cam Edwards’s letter to attendees:

The gun owners of Virginia who are lobbying their lawmakers don’t believe that the right to keep and bear arms is a right of the Right, or a right of the whites, or of any other specific demographic. It is the right of the People to keep and bear arms that shall not be infringed. We are advocating for the human right of self-defense and our constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms, and for nothing else. We stand together regardless of color, class, or creed in support of those rights. This is not an insurrection or a violent protest. This is not an opportunity to clash with anyone, whether it’s the alt-right or antifa. Lobby Day is an act of civic engagement on the part of thousands of Virginia residents. If you have any other agenda planned, don’t come at all.

. . .For any Virginia lawmakers who support any of these gun control bills that have been filed this session and who are able to hear or speak to their constituents, I hope that you’ll be able to filter out the noise and the narrative from outside groups and actually listen to what the people you represent have to say. They’re asking you to focus on the real issues that are driving violent crime and the state’s mental health crisis. They care deeply about safe communities, but they know that their legally owned guns aren’t the problem. Many of them can tell you stories of their family members, co-workers, or friends lost to opiates that have flooded the state and killed more Virginians than firearms. They know that a red flag law that takes guns from those determined to be a danger, but leaves them with no mental health treatment, is not a serious solution to the serious problems we face. They also know that the vast majority of the state’s gun owners would be turned into felons overnight if bills like HB 961 became law, and they’re trying to help you avoid making a disastrous mistake.

A few other points that I feel get just about entirely ignored in these discussions: The best and most recent figure I can find is that 87 percent of gun sales are through federally licensed dealers. It is hard to find any mass shooter who purchased their weapon at a gun show or through a non-licensed but legal dealer (buying from a friend, etc.). Some mass shooters take their guns from family members, some steal their guns, some buy them illegally, one kept his gun after losing his license, and one assembled his own weapon. There is no evidence that peer-to-peer non-federally licensed gun sales are driving mass shootings or crime.

Instead of Good News for One Candidate, Okay News for Two of Them

The New York Times editorial board endorses both Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic party primary. They’re free to endorse anyone they like, but . . . to the extent the endorsement carries any weight, doesn’t splitting it lessen that weight? If the Times had endorsed only Klobuchar, it would have raised some eyebrows and given a shot in the arm to a campaign that, right now, looks like it’s coming out of Iowa with no delegates. (And if Klobuchar can’t do better than fifth place in Iowa, where does she do better, beyond her home state?) And if you’re Warren, how do you feel about splitting the endorsement with a much longer shot like Klobuchar?

Ten days ago, I wrote: “Look, one lucky Democratic presidential candidate is going to get one good news cycle out of this. Even if the endorsement is not enormously consequential, every Democratic campaign would rather have it than not have it. The candidate who gets it will almost certainly mention it in some television ads during the primary, although not the general election. And the stakes matter more for some candidates than others. Elizabeth Warren was more or less engineered in a laboratory to appeal to the Times editorial board. If she doesn’t get the endorsement, it’s a bad day for her.”

It turns out two somewhat lucky candidates get one “okay, I guess” news cycle out of this.

ADDENDUM: The Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl? Sign me up. Two great young quarterbacks, two exciting offenses, and the “San Francisco should have kept Colin Kaepernick” argument looks even less persuasive now.


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