Making the click-through worthwhile: wondering whether there was ever an alternative for both parties to rebuke Trump’s conduct with Ukraine; Nancy Pelosi tries to force Mitch McConnell’s hand; the speaker shuts up her caucus with a glare; and a pair of promised podcasts are now available.
In Hindsight, a Censure Vote Could Have Been Bipartisan
Was there ever a chance that the House, instead of impeaching President Trump, could have mustered a broad bipartisan majority for a resolution censuring the president’s actions?
Back in September 2018, the House passed an appropriations bill that included a Department of Defense spending bill providing $250 million in Ukrainian military-assistance funding. The House passed the original bill 359–49; the Senate passed its version 85–7, and the conference bill — the compromise between the House and Senate versions passed the House 361 to 61. President Trump signed it into law on September 28, 2018. Subsequent appropriations bills added funding to the U.S. program to help Ukraine.
At that point, the president still had a few options if he didn’t want to spend the money on the assistance to Ukraine. Under the Impoundment Control Act, the president can say he doesn’t want to spend a particular amount of money on a particular program and notify Congress, explaining why. Congress then can re-vote on that spending; if they enact legislation authorizing the cut, the money must be released as the law originally required. The administration did not use the Impoundment Control Act.
(Nor has the bipartisan support for Ukraine changed much. This September, the House passed a continuing resolution that included language extending funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative for another year. The vote was 301–123.)
In other words, there are a lot of House Republicans who voted to appropriate the funds that the president and his administration held up. If simply asked whether they believed the president had the authority to withhold Congressionally appropriated funds in secret, it is likely that the vast majority of House Republicans would answer, “no, he does not.”
When we first heard about the president’s conversations with the Ukrainian president, some House Republicans were willing to publicly criticize him.
Republican House Intelligence Committee member Michael Turner of Ohio said, “I’ve read the complaint and I’ve read the transcript of the conversation with the president and the president of Ukraine. Concerning that conversation, I want to say to the president: This is not okay. That conversation is not okay. And I think it’s disappointing to the American public when they read the transcript.”
Will Hurd of Texas said invoking Biden and asking for a favor on the call with Zelensky was “inappropriate, misguided foreign policy, and it certainly is not how an executive currently or in the future should handle such a call.” He also said early on, “There is a lot in the whistleblower complaint that is concerning. We need to fully investigate all of the allegations addressed in the letter.”
Back in November, Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler said, “there should be an investigation into the events and the circumstances surrounding the president’s call to the Ukrainian president. The allegations that President Trump coerced Ukraine to influence the 2020 elections are very serious, and they deserve a full, impartial investigation that is totally transparent to the American people. Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening right now.”
That same month, representative Mac Thornberry of Texas, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee declared, “I believe that it is inappropriate for a president to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival. I believe it was inappropriate. I do not believe it was impeachable.”
Very recently, representative Chip Roy of Texas wrote right here at National Review: “It was foreseeable that mentioning a potential political opponent on a call with a foreign head of state would, at a minimum, give the appearance of mixing domestic politics with foreign policy . . . I also do not believe so much effort should be spent advancing the argument that there was ‘no quid pro quo.’ It’s legally debatable, but it’s difficult to argue there wasn’t a ‘this for that’ desired outcome, based on the totality of the phone call and the testimony.”
In October, representative Don Bacon of Nebraska said to the Associated Press, “it showed poor judgment to make these contacts to Ukraine.” Representative Fred Upton of Michigan said, “There are legitimate questions that have to be asked, and people are going to be required to answer them.” Representative Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, a former FBI Agent who worked in Ukraine, also said President Trump demonstrated “poor judgment.”
Then there is Francis Rooney of Florida:
Initially in one-on-one conversations, and then in larger group settings, Rooney cautioned his colleagues that there could be no turning a blind eye to the fact pattern emerging from Trump’s relationship with Ukraine. It seemed possible, if not probable, that congressionally approved military aid to the embattled country — long a cause dear to Democrats and Republicans alike — had been held up contingent on investigations into Trump’s domestic political rivals.
Notice none of those lawmakers voted to impeach the president last night. There may well have been more House Republicans who would have been willing to publicly criticize the president for his decisions and actions, if that was widely understood as being distinct from supporting Trump’s impeachment.
Whether impeachment advocates want to face this fact or not, few if any House Republicans were ever going to be willing to vote for impeachment. Members of Congress are almost never willing to impeach a president of their own party; we saw the same phenomenon at work among House Democrats in 1998. Members of the opposition party will always be more inclined to see high crimes and misdemeanors, and members of the president’s party will always be more inclined to see bad decisions that simply aren’t serious enough to prematurely end a presidency. Your approval or disapproval of how the world works does not change how the world works.
You can argue with House Republicans that they ought to support removing the president until you’re blue in the face, and maybe some Democrats feel like they did just that. When House Democrats ask why all the independent-minded House GOP members have disappeared, they should remember that the House members most likely to defy the White House got wiped out in the 2018 midterms — Republicans like Barbara Comstock, Mia Love, Carlos Curbelo, Peter Roskam, Erik Paulsen. That’s also why you didn’t see many swing-district Republicans sweating the impeachment vote. There just aren’t as many swing-district Republicans around anymore!
What would President Trump find more stinging: last night’s impeachment vote, where only Democrats voted to impeach? Or broader, bipartisan support for a resolution declaring that his actions violated the law and his Constitutional duties? Democrats were never going to get any GOP votes for the former, but they might have gotten some voters for the latter.
Theoretically, they could still go back and go for a resolution of censure or other condemnation, but I suspect most House Republicans would have little interest in revisiting the topic a second time after an impeachment vote. Fairly or not, a censure vote now would be seen as an admission that the impeachment did not have the impact that Democrats expected.
Welcome to Impeachment Limbo
Last night, House speaker Nancy Pelosi surprised some observers by declaring that the House would not name impeachment managers — roughly the equivalent of prosecutors for the Senate trial — until January, in hopes that the delay would “put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to adopt trial procedures they consider bipartisan.” This is a baffling approach that amounts to taking oneself hostage. Few Senate Republicans are itching to deal with the political stink-bomb that is impeachment, and they are in no rush. Remember, nothing else gets done in the Senate during impeachment — no other votes, no other hearings, no other committee meetings. Oh, and are we absolutely certain that Senators Sanders, Warren, Booker, Klobuchar, and Bennet would all join the bloc of senators seeking a longer Senate trial with more witnesses, dragging through January and February?
— Jim Geraghty (@jimgeraghty) December 18, 2019
In some ways, it would be the perfectly ridiculous end to this if the House majority convinced itself it didn’t need to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate for a trial, because Trump’s acquittals would be more harmful to the country than this probably unconstitutional perpetual delay. This would be the equivalent of the prosecutors announcing an indictment and then never getting around to actually holding the trial.
You Don’t Get Good Behavior Points If You Only Clapped a Little
I know we’re all supposed to be impressed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shut down the post-vote applause with an angry glare . . . but she already told her caucus not to applaud earlier in the day, and they started to applaud anyway. Some Democratic members either have short memories or little impulse control.
ADDENDUM: Okay, now we have links to the podcasts mentioned yesterday! Here’s my chat with Jonah on The Remnant, and here’s my chat with Scott Mason and Mickey about the state of the Jets and the Steelers — I start off with a lengthy diatribe about why the Steelers organization excels and the Jets organization flounders because of completely different expectations at every level, from the owner to the groundskeepers. As Mickey put it, “we’re Steelers fans. We don’t really do moral victories.” If you’ve ever wanted to hear me lose my mind in front of a microphone, look for my rant about Adam Gase towards the tail end.