the national interest

Senate Republicans Keeping Their Options Open on Impeaching Trump

Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Trump is probably going to survive impeachment. But even though he only needs 34 Senate Republicans to keep him in office, that outcome is hardly preordained. Far from standing behind him, the Senate is keeping the backdoor unlocked.

The latest machinations in Congress are designed to create the appearance of staunch partisan support for President Trump. In reality, it indicates the opposite. Senator Lindsey Graham, who has positioned himself as one of Trump’s most debased sycophants, has tried to assemble a show of support. But Graham has only been able to get 44 of the 54 Republicans to sign his resolution. And even mustering that rather tepid showing, reports Jonathan Swan, required negotiating with Mitch McConnell to soften the wording.

The resolution itself, tellingly, contains no substantive defense of Trump’s behavior whatsoever. It merely complains that the House impeachment has been conducted in secrecy, and urges some procedural changes. Trump should be permitted “to call witnesses on his behalf, and have a basic understanding of the accusations against him that would form any basis for impeachment.” (Of course, if Trump having a “basic understanding” of the charges is necessary to impeach him, he’s in the clear, since he seems to lack the capacity to understand the offense.) It likewise calls for the House “to vote to initiate a formal impeachment inquiry.”

Taken literally, Trump’s staunchest defenders are literally asking the House to vote to impeach Trump. That can’t be the defense he wants.

Once the House is finished with its initial process of collecting testimony, it will move to open hearings and likely hold a formal vote, which will moot all the process complaints. As the New York Times reports, Republicans are “keenly aware that there is an expiration date on that approach.” The whole purpose of these talking points is to give loyalists a way of not confronting the extremely damning set of facts that has emerged.

It is notable, as well, that Trump’s Republican critics are focusing on the facts of the case, while his supporters are focusing on Trump’s feelings. “It’s getting to be a harder choice for more people. Whether that’s enough for enough senators to take decisive action … every single move has been in the wrong direction for” Trump, a source close to McConnell tells Josh Kraushaar, adding, “This is shaping up to be a very dark moment for the Trump White House.” Senator John Thune, normally an automatic partisan vote, tells NBC, “The picture coming out of it based on the reporting we’ve seen is, yeah, I would say is not a good one.”

The defense of Trump, meanwhile, boils down to acknowledging that he is going through a lot of emotional turmoil. “He feels like it never stops, that he’s been in office for, what, three years now, and every time he turns around there’s another reason that his family, his friends have to pay legal bills,” Graham tells the Times. “He keeps telling us he did nothing wrong.” Yes, Trump certainly has committed a lot of crimes.

National Review editor Rich Lowry warns that, if removed from office, “He will vent his anger and resentment at every opportunity. It will be ‘human scum’ every single day.” Well, then, by all means, let’s keep this unstable vessel of resentment in the most powerful office on Earth, and work to extend his term another four years!

Lowry’s argument against removal is a solid reason to bet that, at the end of the day, Republicans will not probably risk the party schism that would come if they join together and pull the rip cord on Trump’s shambolic presidency. On the other hand, the fact that Lowry even has to devote a column to arguing against this course of action is evidence that what once seemed like a completely fantastical scenario can no longer be dismissed.

Senate Republicans Keeping Their Options Open on Impeachment