Republicans Go Quiet or Scared

UNITED STATES - MAY 9: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., talks with reporters before the Senate Policy Luncheons in the Capitol on May 9, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - MAY 9: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., talks with reporters before the Senate Policy Luncheons in the Capitol on May 9, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)
May 16, 2017 8:05 p.m.

We are, to put it mildly, in a weird, liminal moment. The Times Comey blockbuster is less than three hours old, now confirmed in its essentials by a handful of other publications. The White House released a statement which amounted to a flat denial. But so far, with the exception of that first response contained in the written statement, there’s been radio silence from the White House.

Reporters at the White House appear not to have gotten any all clear for the evening or any guidance on whether more information will be forthcoming from the White House. Meanwhile, the response to this latest revelation seems distinctly different from the others of the last week.

Sen. James Risch of Idaho this afternoon made some vitriolic comments attacking whoever leaked yesterday’s story to The Washington Post. Sen. Burr of North Carolina said the burden of proof was on The New York Times to vindicate its claims and speculated that there’s a plot to undermine the President. But most other Republicans seem to be quiet or keeping their distance or offering no more defense than cautioning against a rush to judgement or saying that Congress and country need to see the memos and hear from James Comey.

Jason Chaffetz, a reliable partisan though perhaps freed up in some way by his departure from Congress, says he’s ready to subpoena the Comey memo if it isn’t provided. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Rep sitting in a Florida swing district tweeted this out: “If recent allegations are true, they mark the beginning of a new and very sad chapter of scandal and controversy in our country.”

It’s difficult to decipher whether this represents some decisive shift or loss of confidence in Trump or whether – on a more basic, cognitive level – it’s just hard to absorb this much this quickly. There’s a lot to take in.

I’ll stick with what I said earlier. I suspect we’re still a long way away from any big change at the top at the White House. Remember, there’s no such thing as an ‘impeachable offense’. Impeachment is ultimately – and I would say properly – a political determination. What anyone says is an impeachable offense has no real meaning unless and until a majority of members in the House say it is. And after that, a two-thirds majority has to convict the President in the Senate to remove him from office. What this amounts to is that President Trump needs to suffer a catastrophic loss of support within his own party to be driven from office. I don’t think we’re anywhere close to that. You see anything like that? I don’t.

Just now as I write I see that Speaker Ryan has released a statement saying that the House Oversight Committee should request a copy of the Comey memo. Republicans aren’t close to abandoning Trump. But this is the first moment since he took office that they seem spooked about whether to defend him.


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