We’re three days into the impeachment trial, and Senate Republicans have begun floating their “what President Trump did was okay” trial balloon.
For the most part, they’re still avoiding weighing in directly about the Trump conduct House managers have described, and instead have thrown around procedural complaints or claims about how the Trump administration’s Ukraine policy has been stronger than the Obama’s.
But listen closely to the main themes in their reactions to the House’s meticulously built case. What you’ll hear being shaped is a defense that accepts that Trump mounted a secret pressure campaign to force a Ukrainian investigation into his 2020 rival and a defense that concludes that such an effort was permissible.
Nowhere is this growing GOP embrace of Trump’s Ukraine behavior more evident than in how they’re handling the ongoing debate over calling witnesses.
Several Senate Republicans are now proposing the idea that if Democrats secure the votes to subpoena the House’s desired witnesses, Republicans will push to bring in the Bidens. They claim that the House managers invited such a move by focusing so much of their presentation on debunking the Biden allegations Trump was pushing. But the subtext of that GOP argument is that Trump’s demand that Ukraine open investigations into the Biden family was justified.
“They can claim it could be about soliciting Ukraine’s assistance in our politics, when what we don’t know is what did our Vice President potentially give to Ukraine to not investigate Hunter Biden and Burisma,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) said. “I think they’ve raised the issue, frankly, to a higher level than what it is intended to be — than it would have been going into this.”
A legitimate rationale behind Trump’s request for a Biden probe is obvious even without the testimony of Hunter or Joe Biden, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) claimed Thursday.
“When President Trump’s lawyers stand up and present their defense, they are going to have the opportunity to present the very significant evidence that supported and still supports this investigation into corruption and Burisma and whether Joe Biden participated in that corruption,” Cruz said.
As GOP senators tell reporters that they’re looking forward to the side of the story Trump legal team puts forward, they have had few, if any holes, to poke themselves into the account laid out by the House.
The other prevalent GOP response to the House’s presentation also suggests that Republicans don’t seriously contest the facts the managers are presenting, but rather don’t fight those facts troubling.
Senate Republicans have complained that the managers keep repeating the same points and they allege this repetition is aimed at making the conduct the House is describing sound more troubling.
“We’ve heard the same story: rinse it, recycle it, repeat it; rinse it recycle it and repeat it,” Sen. Tim Scott said (R-SC). “And what is that story? The story is that the President of the United States has no responsibility whatsoever to look for injustice, corruption anywhere.”
President Trump has had cheerleaders in the Senate who, from when Trump released the call transcript, have said they had no qualms with Trump’s Biden probe demand of Ukraine made on his call with President Volodymyr Zelensky.
But plenty of other Republicans, included Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, stopped short of saying what Trump did was appropriate, and once it was clear that the scandal was heading towards impeachment, those members have deferred commenting on the behavior until it was presented within the trial.
That excuse won’t hold for many days longer, and the groundwork is being laid for Republicans to acquit Trump not because the facts aren’t there, but because the behavior the facts establish isn’t concerning.
.@SenSasse slammed Ukraine call when transcript dropped. Now spox says:
“Ben isn’t thinking about politics during Adam Schiff’s clown show — he’s doing his job by listening and taking notes, even when Schiff repeats himself over and over and over again.”https://t.co/AHgGOrW91R
— Joseph Morton (@MortonOWH) January 24, 2020
Ironically, the third major GOP reaction to the House’s presentation this week exploited a catch-22 created by those initial dodges.
After months of Senate Republicans, citing the inevitable trial, saying they weren’t paying attention to the several reveals coming out of the House impeachment’s inquiry, they’re now claiming they’ve learned “nothing new” in the case the House was now presenting them.
Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) was asked Wednesday if he found anything the House managers presented to be troubling.
“Not any more troubling or less troubling than before,” he said.