Monday, February 3, 2020

Republicans - some at least - believe that 'the president did the crime, but he need not do the time'

Let’s start with Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post who describes the Republican Senators’ reasoning, if you call it that (or absence of it) in her most recent essay: In case you had any doubt, impeachment will plague Senate Republicans.

Rubin covers two interviews, one with Lamar Alexander and the other with Joni Ernst. I’ve give you the brief version with snippets.

Both poll numbers and the hapless Senate Republicans’ performances on Sunday trying to justify their conduct in the impeachment trial suggest President Trump and his enablers are clueless if they think the public will accept the trial as exoneration of the president. Rather, it seems Republican senators are shockingly unaware of their constitutional obligations and unable to provide a coherent explanation for their actions.

A Politico-Morning Consult poll finds 50 percent of voters favor removing him, while only 43 percent do not. The NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll shows that a narrow plurality does not want to remove him, and “a majority of voters — 52 percent — say they believe Trump abused the power of his office by asking a foreign government to investigate a political opponent to influence the upcoming election, compared with 41 percent who disagree.” The numbers are even worse on the second article of impeachment for obstruction of Congress: 53 percent say he obstructed Congress, while only 37 percent say he did not.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER: What I believe he did, one, was that he called the president of Ukraine and asked him to become involved in investigating Joe Biden. … But he admitted that. The president admitted that. He released a transcript, he said on television. The second thing was, at least in part, he delayed the military and other assistance to Ukraine in order to encourage that investigation. Those are the two things he did. I think he shouldn’t have done it. I think it was wrong. Inappropriate was the way I’d say — improper, crossing the line. And then the only question left is who decides what to do about that.

CHUCK TODD: Well, who decides what to do about that?


Of course, it is the Senate’s job under the Constitution to remove Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors, not the people.

… [Ernst] does not offer a remotely cogent explanation for how tying Joe Biden’s election prospects to Ukraine isn’t precisely the root of the problem. Her argument in defense of Trump that, after being caught, he offered up corruption generally as an excuse is no defense at all to the charge that, at the time, he aimed directly at his political rival. She likewise repeats the dopey talking point that he just didn’t go about this the right way in enlisting Ukraine. Actually, enlisting a foreign power to go after a U.S. citizen is precisely the high crime here. To make matters worse, later in the day Ernst suggested that if Biden were elected, he would be in danger of being impeached, yet one more sign of how entirely unserious she is in carrying out one of the most consequential duties of her office.

Listening to Alexander and Ernst, one is tempted to ask if they believe what they are saying or instead are robotically reciting talking points. Their logic seems to break down as soon as they are asked a pertinent question. Perhaps they know they are spouting double talk but are confident their voters do not care.

In short, the country at large “gets it”: Trump did what he is accused of, was wrong to do it, and the Senate couldn’t bear to look at all the evidence that might have made crystal clear why removal was essential. Moreover, it is only going to get worse as more and more evidence comes out. (The Post reported on Saturday, “Hours after the Senate voted against seeking new evidence in the impeachment case against President Trump, the administration acknowledged the existence of two dozen emails that could reveal the president’s thinking about withholding military aid to Ukraine.”) A great many voters, I suspect, will look at Alexander, Ernst and other Republicans in horror and reach the only logically conclusion: Neither Trump nor these Republican senators should be there.

Steve Benen (MaddowBlog) observes that Multiple Republicans agree: Trump’s guilty, but it doesn’t matter.

This wasn’t quite where we were supposed to end up. Trump stands accused of abusing the powers of his office, illegally withholding aid to a vulnerable ally, trying to extort a foreign country into helping him cheat in an American election, trying to cover it up, and getting caught. It’s against this backdrop that the political dispute seemed to fall relatively neatly into two camps: those who demanded accountability for a presidential abuse on a historic scale, and those who argued that Trump did not do what all of the evidence showed him doing.

But there was a Door #3 and behind it sat something we probably should’ve seen coming: Republican indifference.

It’s refreshing, to a degree, that so many GOP lawmakers are willing to concede that Trump’s nonsensical “hoax” talking point, repeated obsessively despite its transparent absurdity, is simply too ridiculous to endorse.

And yet, much of the party, which likes to present itself to voters as champions of “law and order” and the “rule of law,” has decided that the president did the crime, but he need not do the time.

So the continuing mystery is why Senators believe that Trump was guilty - did that things alleged in the House’s articles of impeachment given that their constituents know the score - and voted for a sham trial anyway.

One of my subscribers, Mark M. proposed an interesting explanation. “Heard an interesting small comment on MSNBC by Chris Mathews late last week in a response to Claire  McCaskill that sealed the deal for me, even though I’m not a huge Mathews fan. The GOP was never going convict and have Trump removed.  Never.  Why?  Look at the consequences - a Pence 2020 ticket that would get creamed.  IMHO most of the candidates, not all that have even dropped out, would beat Pence. His constituents are limited in white evangelicals.  Not a very winnable data set.”

If that is true, then the vast majority of Republican senators are about to commit the ultimate act of political self interest - voting for party over country.

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