5 reporters review the week in impeachment
Andrew Desiderio, Congress reporter: In the run-up to this week’s unveiling of articles, Democrats left their options open. They gave every indication that they were strongly considering addressing, head-on, volume two of the Mueller report — whether it would come in the form of a separate article on obstruction of justice, or just a few passing references to the allegations. Progressives wanted to go big, charging Trump not only with obstruction of justice but also emoluments violations. In the end, Democratic leaders took the safer path. All summer, Democrats failed to sustain momentum from the Mueller report, and a large chunk of the caucus was still resisting impeachment proceedings. The Ukraine scandal is what got nearly everyone on board with an inquiry, uniting a fractious caucus that was not ready to impeach the president. So it would have been an uphill climb for Democratic leaders to whip enough support for an obstruction of justice article — especially as moderate and swing-district lawmakers were urging against a “kitchen-sink” approach.
Anita: There are many government observers (and some lawmakers) who think the articles should have been broadened to include other allegations, including whether Trump illegally used his office to make money and paid to silence women who had sexual encounters with him. Common Cause, for example, recommended the House pass nine articles. “Not including expanded articles … gives a green light for future presidents that these abuses can go unpunished,” Aaron Scherb, director of legislative affairs at Common Cause recently told me. But moderate Democrats were uncomfortable with an impeachment effort that went beyond Ukraine. In the end, Democratic leaders made a strategic decision to do what they needed to do to get the votes they needed for impeachment.
How many crossover votes do you expect on the House floor — Democrats voting no and Republicans voting yes?
Andrew: I try not to be in the predicting business, but since you asked… There are two House Democrats who are almost certain to vote against the articles: Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey. As my colleagues Sarah Ferris and John Bresnahan reported, Democratic leaders expect no more than six members of their caucus to defect. Others who could vote “no” include freshmen whose districts Trump won by double digits: Anthony Brindisi of New York, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, and Jared Golden of Maine. As for House Republicans, I think the safest bet is that they will be united in opposition to the articles. But there are two lawmakers to keep an eye on: Francis Rooney of Florida and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania. Rooney is retiring and has criticized Trump’s posture toward Ukraine’s president; while Fitzpatrick is a centrist who has voted alongside Democrats on major legislation this year and is believed to be a get-able vote.
Darren: Very few. I’m expecting a pretty much party-line House vote with just the two Democrats who have signaled opposition sticking by their position: Peterson and Van Drew. The Republicans appear to be standing behind the president across all ranks, including Rep. William Hurd’s recent statement saying he, too, opposed impeachment. Bonus piece of trivia: Assuming Peterson votes no and the same goes for New York GOP Rep. Peter King they’d be the only two House members in U.S. history to vote against two presidential impeachments.
Kyle: There will probably be a few more Democratic defectors than Peterson and Van Drew, but not many — anyone who voted to open the inquiry is already on the hook politically so there’s not much to be gained from reversing course. The conventional wisdom is that no Republicans will buck their leaders or the president, but there are a few notable holdouts for whom the decision isn’t as simple as going with the pack.
What’s been most remarkable about how President Trump has handled the impeachment effort so far?
Nahal: He comes across as fixated and frustrated, but that’s not entirely surprising. One thing that has raised my eyebrows is that Trump still gives no indication of personally changing his view that Russia is more friend than foe. This week, he welcomed Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to the Oval Office. I asked Lavrov afterward if he believes Trump is a reliable partner for the Kremlin. He said, “We don’t doubt that President Trump was sincere and that he realizes that normal relations with Russia are beneficial for the U.S.”
Darren: It’s definitely worth contemplating his total distaste for the process and how he’s flaunting the charges Democrats are impeaching him for by touting the work his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has been doing dredging up dirt on his political opponents while in the Ukraine at the same time he’s being impeached over the same kinds of things. Trump’s entire political career has been about going after his opponents through pretty sharp gut punches – bringing Bill Clinton’s accusers to the St. Louis 2016 debate; slamming NFL players who are protesting the national anthem; insert any other pseudo-scandal his Twitter feed has created – and it does make sense that he’d keep on daring the Democrats here in the middle of impeachment by adding more evidence to the fire.