This overarching fact about the whole scandal — that most Republicans are fully supportive of the acts with respect to Ukraine Trump committed that aren’t even in dispute — was unintentionally captured by a minor dust-up that ensued when the president dishonestly mangled a quote from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Trump tweeted this:
Nancy Pelosi just stated that “it is dangerous to let the voters decide Trump’s fate.” @FoxNews In other words, she thinks I’m going to win and doesn’t want to take a chance on letting the voters decide. Like Al Green, she wants to change our voting system. Wow, she’s CRAZY!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2019
As MSNBC’s Steve Benen notes, this is likely to become the GOP’s “new toy,” with Republicans such as Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) claiming Pelosi was saying voters can’t be trusted to decide who is president.
Of course, this badly distorts what Pelosi actually did say. In a letter to House colleagues, she wrote this:
The facts are uncontested: that the President abused his power for his own personal, political benefit, at the expense of our national security interests.The weak response to these hearings has been, “Let the election decide.” That dangerous position only adds to the urgency of our action, because the President is jeopardizing the integrity of the 2020 elections.
Trump left off the part where Pelosi noted that the “urgency” of impeachment is underscored by Trump “jeopardizing the integrity of the 2020 elections.”
In other words, Pelosi wasn’t saying it’s “dangerous to allow voters to decide Trump’s fate." Rather, she was saying it’s dangerous not to pursue impeachment on the grounds that there’s an election in 2020, because of what he’s being impeached over: His effort to corruptly solicit foreign interference in that election, to cheat his way to victory in it.
The basic truism expressed here is that it’s not an option to shelve impeachment and “let the election decide,” precisely because the very act of doing that — the very act of failing to hold Trump accountable for trying to corrupt that election — will further embolden the president to use the levers of government to continue corrupting it to the greatest extent he can.
What we are now seeing from Republicans during the hearings is functionally a mass effort on their part to embolden Trump to do just that. Because none of them sees what Trump did as a problem.
I’m talking here about what’s not even in dispute — the conduct detailed in the White House’s own summary of Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In it, Trump explicitly pressed Zelensky to pursue investigations designed to validate conspiracy theories about Ukrainian-Democratic collusion that would supplant U.S. intelligence services’ conclusion about the 2016 Russian interference, and to validate debunked lies about Joe Biden that could help Trump win in 2020.
While some Republicans have condemned Trump’s pressure on Zelensky, most have not. And at the hearing, one GOP argument after another has essentially amounted to a shrug.
Some Republicans claimed there was “no pressure” on Zelensky, which is a ridiculous lie. Others argued nothing untoward happened, since Zelensky never conducted the investigations and Ukraine ultimately got its military aid. But the idea that this is exonerating is nonsense. In both cases, the underlying claim is that asking Zelensky to do this was just fine.
But it wasn’t. Even putting aside whether Trump corruptly used withheld military aid to extort those investigations — which has basically been confirmed — merely using the power of the presidency to secure that foreign interference in a U.S. election is profoundly corrupt and impeachable. Most Republicans say it’s just fine.
By the way, we know Trump will continue using the levers of government to try to bury the truth about the last election and rig the next one in his favor, because that is already happening.
Attorney General William P. Barr is carrying out Trump’s command to launch an internal review designed to discredit the special counsel’s conclusions about 2016 Russian electoral sabotage and, by extension, Trump campaign coordination with it. The Justice Department advised against transmitting the whistleblower complaint exposing the whole scheme to Congress; the State Department is blocking key witness testimony.
All this makes it easier for Trump to escape accountability for his effort to rig the 2020 election and signals more of the same in the future.
When Trump and Republicans wave away a Pelosi quote to gloss over what impeachment is really about — that is, whether Trump will be held accountable for attempting to corrupt our political system to avoid facing a free and fair election — they’re just doing what Republicans at the hearing, and beyond, are doing in reaction to this whole scandal.