‘No quid pro quo’: Trump’s Republican defenders dig in
First it was “no collusion.” Now it’s “no quid pro quo.”
Congressional Republicans are sharpening their messaging and mounting an all-out defense of embattled President Donald Trump, who is facing the greatest threat to his presidency to date as Democrats move ahead with a formal impeachment inquiry.
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Yet with the latest crisis — which involves Trump pressing Ukraine’s president to investigate the Biden family while withholding foreign aid from the country — Trump and the GOP aren’t leaving anything to chance.
Just a few hours before the Trump administration released a memo of Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president Wednesday morning, officials including White House counsel Pat Cipollone summoned a dozen key Republican lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, to the White House to get an early look at the readout and coordinate their talking points.
Trump even called into the meeting from New York at one point to discuss the transcript and answer questions. Not a single GOP lawmaker raised concerns, according to Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who attended the meeting. Then, not long after, Trump saw his White House’s intervention bear out in dozens of floor speeches, tweets and press releases from Republicans.
“We read it. There was a discussion among members about it,” said Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, who also joined the meeting. “From the way the speaker made it out to be yesterday, I was expecting something there. And when you look at it… there’s nothing there.”
“I just am embarrassed almost that the speaker would take this document, having not seen it, and take this to an impeachment conversation. There’s nothing in this document that backs up the whistleblower report,” said Perdue. The media “talked about eight quid pros in there. I can’t find one.”
The GOP has had years of practice shielding Trump from the controversy du jour, from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report to hush money payments to porn stars to racist attacks on four Democratic women of color. But now with Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally endorsing an impeachment inquiry, the defenses have become more dire.
“Nothing impeachable … it’s just a huge overreach,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). Asked if all 53 Senate Republicans would vote to defend Trump from efforts to oust him from office, he replied: “Yes. Yes.”
At least one Republican, however, seemed sufficiently pained by the release of the transcript: Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah.
“It’s troubling in the extreme,” Romney said. “Everybody has their own perspective. I indicated … over the weekend what I thought troubling behavior would be. And asking a leader of a foreign government to investigate a political opponent is, in my opinion, a troubling matter.”
While Sen. Pat Toomey called the conversation “inappropriate,” the Pennsylvania Republican said “it does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.”
It “reveals no quid pro quo,” he added.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said the transcript “raises a number of important questions” but that because she may have to be a juror in an impeachment conviction trial “I’m not going to be pre judging the evidence and I’m not going to be commenting on the House’s proceedings.”
Romney aside, Republican after Republican has zeroed in on the fact that Trump did not specifically mention foreign aid to Ukraine during the call, according to a readout of the July conversation. That’s proof, they say, that there was no explicit arrangement, which would be a crime.
“I didn’t find it concerning,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). “There was no quid pro quo, you’d have to have that if there was going to be anything wrong.”
Still, Trump reminded Zelensky that “we do a lot for Ukraine” at the beginning of the call. And only days earlier, the administration froze military aid meant for Ukraine.
The White House accidentally sent a list of GOP talking points to Democratic offices on Capitol Hill, which outlined three “myths” to point out: there was no quid pro quo, there was no promise made on the call and Trump referred to Biden “in only one exchange”, the document stated.
That message was quickly echoed by GOP leaders on Capitol Hill. McCarthy (R-Calif.), a top Trump ally, forcefully pushed back on reporters when they asked for his reaction to Trump mentioning Biden several times during the Ukraine call.
“No he didn’t. He mentioned it one time,” McCarthy said. The president mentioned Biden several times during the call.
And Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), one of Trump’s top confidants on Capitol Hill, had tweeted four separate times about the absence of a “quid pro quo” by lunchtime.
Democrats say the fact that Trump pressed a foreign government to help damage a political rival is grounds enough for impeachment.
The White House on Wednesday afternoon is planning to hand lawmakers the full whistleblower complaint that brought the Ukraine episode to light, which could provide more damning details and backfire for Republicans who have stuck out their necks to defend Trump.
Yet for now, the GOP appears eager to paper over their differences and are practically salivating at the chance to use impeachment as a club over Democrats’ heads.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) even handed out a sheet of “impeachment ad libs” during a GOP conference meeting Wednesday morning. And the House GOP’s campaign arm on Tuesday blasted out an email with the subject line: “Nice knowing you, House Dems!”
“I don’t want to go and say there’s almost, since yesterday, a kind of giddy atmosphere, because you always have to be careful what you wish for,” said Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), vice chairman of the GOP conference. “But at the same point, if Democrats continue to play the same card, ‘attack attack attack’, the Republican base isn’t going to bite anymore.”
“We think it’s hilarious,” added Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.). “This is a sham process.”