It’s not surprising that Republicans and Democrats hold polar-opposite opinions of Trump’s effort to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation of a political rival, former vice president Joe Biden and his son, in exchange for U.S. military assistance.
But what is alarming is the language Republicans repeatedly used against federal workers who have spent their careers serving the public and administrations of both parties.
One of their favorite terms is the pejorative “unelected bureaucrats,” used throughout the report and three times in the third paragraph of the Republicans’ 123-page document that rebuts the case for impeachment:
“The Democrats are trying to impeach a duly elected President based on the accusations and assumptions of unelected bureaucrats who disagreed with President Trump’s policy initiatives and processes. They are trying to impeach President Trump because some unelected bureaucrats were discomforted by an elected President’s telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. They are trying to impeach President Trump because some unelected bureaucrats chafed at an elected President’s ‘outside the beltway’ approach to diplomacy.”
That term presents an “enormous” problem because it “carries a lot of negative weight,” said Max Stier, president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit organization focusing on improving the federal government. “Use of the word bureaucrat is the same thing as calling a doctor a quack or a lawyer an ambulance chaser.”
One term not found in the Republican report is “public servant.” Rather than viewing the diplomats, who testified during two weeks of House Intelligence Committee impeachment hearings last month as nonpartisan fact witnesses, the Republican report casts them as part of a jealous crew determined to get Trump.
“To the extent that some unelected bureaucrats believed President Trump had established an ‘irregular’ foreign policy apparatus, it was because they were not a part of that apparatus …” the Republicans wrote. “From the very first days of the Trump Administration — indeed even before it began — the unelected bureaucracy rejected President Trump and his policies.”
This view is driven home in the GOP’s penultimate paragraph: “The Democrats’ impeachment inquiry paints a picture of unelected bureaucrats within the foreign policy and national security apparatus who fundamentally disagreed with President Trump’s style, world view, and decisions. Their disagreements with President Trump’s policies and their discomfort with President Trump’s actions set in motion the anonymous, secondhand whistleblower complaint. Democrats seized on the whistleblower complaint to fulfill their years old obsession with removing President Trump from office.”
Although Republicans have long pushed federal compensation cuts and anti-federal-union proposals, some have been supportive of the federal workforce. Several of them, however, declined to comment on the language in the GOP report. One who did comment is Dan Blair, a former Republican Senate staffer and a top Office of Personnel Management appointee in the George W. Bush administration.
Calling “unelected bureaucrat” a possible “dog whistle,” Blair, now a senior counselor with the Bipartisan Policy Center, said “career civil servants are caught in the middle of a political battle with the highest possible constitutional stakes resulting in the nonpartisan civil service as collateral damage. The overwhelming majority of civil servants work diligently on a daily basis in performing their public service regardless of the political stripe of the administration.”
The report’s language is reminiscent of Trump’s declaration that Marie Yovanovitch, the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, was “bad news,” though she had a praiseworthy record in Kyiv. As Yovanovitch appeared before the House Intelligence Committee, Trump tweeted: “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.”
In one exchange with Yovanovitch during the Intelligence Committee hearings, Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) emphasized that Trump has the right to make foreign policy decisions.
Yovanovitch agreed, but asked, poignantly, “why it was necessary to smear my reputation.”
Wenstrup’s reply: “Well I wasn’t asking about that.”
The Democrats’ report praised the diplomatic witnesses as “patriotic and courageous public servants.” The report details a persistent and successful smear campaign against Yovanovitch that “undermined U.S. diplomatic efforts in Ukraine.”
In the face of smears from the president and other Republicans, the foreign policy officials who testified supported one another. As the Democrats noted, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, director for European affairs on the National Security Council, who was hit by the right for his impeachment inquiry testimony, told the panel that “the vile character attacks on these distinguished and honorable public servants is reprehensible.”