Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) said it was “inappropriate” for a president to seek foreign assistance, while clarifying that “I’m not acknowledging or alleging that the president did that.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), among the most effusive Trump supplicants, said he would be “disappointed” if the allegations proved to be true. (Should we break it to him that President Trump has largely confessed to the allegations?) Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) all but encouraged the House to commence its inquest.
The beauty of impeachment proceedings on Ukraine is twofold. First, the facts will come out. Second, a number of GOP senators — perhaps not enough to remove Trump but certainly enough to humiliate him — cannot justify using U.S. taxpayer dollars for leverage to extract dirt on a political opponent from a foreign government.
Some profiles in queasiness, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), refused to even comment on the matter. Perhaps they hope it will all go away before they are forced to comment. That’s unlikely to happen insofar as the House is in possession of public information that might be sufficient to support voting out articles of impeachment.
By their silence, the squeamish Republicans underscore the wisdom of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s move toward impeachment. There is no good answer on Ukraine for Republicans outside of deep-red locales. Reasonable Americans, regardless of party, will not buy that Trump’s alleged conduct was acceptable, nor are they likely to look favorably on senators who pretend it is. Moreover, Republicans who are vulnerable in 2020 can expect to see the sort of protests, sit-ins, and telephone and letter campaigns that activists mounted in the fight over the Affordable Care Act. Conversely, Trump’s rabid base will attack any senator who steps out of line.
The vote by unanimous consent from the Senate to obtain the complete whistleblower’s complaint should alarm the White House. The prospect of the whistleblower appearing in person before the Senate and House intelligence committees should be even more frightful.
Once the full contents of the whistleblower’s complaint are known, Senate Republicans have a few options. They can call for Trump to step down. They can try to “bargain” for the president to avoid resignation/impeachment by accepting a penalty such as censure. They can refuse to endorse him for a second term. Alternatively, they can pretend, as Trump and his spinners on Fox News do, that it’s perfectly fine to extort a foreign government with American aid, set up a parallel State Department headed by his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and try to obtain or create dirt on a political opponent. Judging from the initial reaction of a good many Republicans, the last option does not appear viable. Hence, you can understand the discomfort of Republicans, who for the first time in the Trump presidency might be required to show some spine.