With the Senate impeachment trial in full swing, Republicans have launched an aggressive if scattershot campaign to defend President Donald Trump and discredit the Democrats’ case.
It’s not going well. Multiple recent polls have found that a majority of the country thinks Trump should be removed from office and many more think he has done something seriously wrong, even if they think he should remain in the White House until the next election.
While the Democrats have unleashed a torrent of facts and compelling arguments for the charges that Trump abused his power and obstructed Congress, Republican replies have been all over the map. Many of their arguments are completely beside the point of the case, and the sheer weakness of their defenses is an embarrassment to the party.
Here are seven of weakest and most embarrassing arguments Republicans have made to defend Trump:
1. Schiff is a liar
House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, who led the primary impeachment inquiry of Trump, has become a favorite target among the right wing for obvious reasons. While he’s certainly not faultless, they’ve concocted an entirely fanciful caricature of him as an unrepentant liar that much better fits the president himself. In one video, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham tried to argue that California Democrat had contradicted himself, calling it another “of Adam Schiff’s many lies.”
But the video showed no contradiction at all. The first two clips showed Schiff in the fall responding to questions about whether he had decided to support articles of impeachment against Trump during the inquiry, and he said, reasonably, that he was withholding judgment until the investigation was complete and draft articles were available to assess. A third clip showed Schiff making a political speech in which he argued for expanding the Democrats’ majority and harshly criticized Trump as a “charlatan.” But it didn’t show at all that he had lied. Claiming it did, was, in fact, just another of Grisham’s lies.
Another of Adam Schiff’s many lies. pic.twitter.com/I39oEghJy9
— Stephanie Grisham (@PressSec) January 22, 2020
2. Democrats didn’t include “quid pro quo” in their articles of impeachment
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow criticized the Democrats’ impeachment articles.
“You’ve noticed that Adam Schiff today talked about quid pro quo,” he said. “Notice what’s not in the articles of impeachment: allegations or accusations of quid pro quo. That’s because they didn’t exist.”
Of course, substantial evidence does show that there were several quid pro quos in the Ukraine scheme at the heart of the impeachment case. And while Sekulow is correct to say the Latin phrase “quid pro quo” — this for that — doesn’t appear in the articles, they does, in fact, allege that Trump engaged in such a scheme. It says that Trump was “conditioning official United States Government acts of significant value to Ukraine on its public announcement of the investigations” — which is just another way of saying there was a quid pro quo.
3. There is no evidence
This is one of the more galling lies Republicans have told. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that Democrats don’t have any evidence for their charges, and Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) made a similar claim on Twitter.
It’s galling for two reasons. First, it’s just flatly wrong, and anyone who watched the Democrats present their case in the Senate for even a few minutes will likely know that. The impeachment managers are repeatedly referring to text messages, emails, witness testimony, video clips and other forms of evidence to make their case. The evidence is overwhelming, and they use it constantly.
But second, it’s even more galling because Democrats do wish they had more evidence — and the fact that the Trump administration denied them the evidence they believe they should have had access to prompted the article of impeachment accusing the president of obstructing Congress. And at least thus far, Senate Republicans have unanimously agreed to block the trial from obtaining more evidence from the administration.
Josh Hawley on Tucker Carlson’s show last night: “They’re not even trying to put on evidence. [Democrats] don’t even have any evidence.”
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 23, 2020
4. Abuse of power isn’t an impeachable offense
Alan Dershowitz plans to make this argument on the White House’s behalf at the Senate trial. Unfortunately for him, almost no one buys it. Even John Turley, the constitutional scholar Republicans brought to the House to attack the impeachment inquiry, has rejected the argument. So has Attorney General Bill Barr. And it should strike any reasonable citizen as absurd on its face — abuse of power seems like the paradigmatic impeachable offense.
5. Impeaching Trump will make it too easy to impeach other presidents
This is actually one of the more reasonable arguments to make, but it still doesn’t add up. It is important for Congress to think about the precedents it sets when it uses its significant powers. But when it comes to impeachment, the record is clear that there have been too few impeachments of American presidents, not too few.
After all, it’s now pretty widely acknowledged that President George W. Bush lied us into the war in Iraq. Hundreds of thousands were killed. And yet impeaching Bush was somehow never seriously on the table.
And even for Trump, there were many things Democrats could have impeached Trump for: hiding his ties to Russia; obstructing the Mueller probe; violating campaign finance law to pay hush money; neglecting Puerto Rico after multiple natural disasters; violating the human rights of immigrants. Instead, they waited until there was a clear and present threat to the upcoming election, the evidence was clear, and they felt they had no choice.
This shows that even under Trump, lawmakers are reluctant to use their impeachment powers. And if Congress does start to impeach pointlessly in the future, the voters can punish overeager House members at the next election. That’s exactly what happened in 1998 when Republicans’ efforts to go after President Bill Clinton backfired, and they lost five seats in the House.
6. Denying the facts
Because the Republicans have offered so many scattershot defenses of Trump, it’s often hard to know what exactly they think happened in the Ukraine scandal and what, in their minds, would be impeachable.
When he was recently asked directly about whether he approved of the president’s conduct, Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) just denied the facts outright.
“So you’re saying that it’s okay for a President to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival and withhold foreign aid to coerce him into doing so?” a reporter asked.
“No I’m not saying that’s okay,” Braun said. “I’m not saying that’s appropriate, I’m saying that it didn’t happen.”
“So you’re saying that it’s okay for a President to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival and withhold foreign aid to coerce him into doing so?”
“No I’m not saying that’s okay, I’m not saying that’s appropriate, I’m saying that it DIDN’T HAPPEN.” pic.twitter.com/njAlVcSTw5
— Senator Mike Braun (@SenatorBraun) January 22, 2020
The problem is no one has actually made a compelling version of this argument — including the White House. White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney even admitted that the military aid was used in a quid pro quo for a Ukrainian investigation.
And if the Republicans really wanted to challenge this premise of the Democrats’ case — which Democrats have supported forcefully with a wealth of evidence — they should produce their own evidence from the administration to counter it. But they haven’t done so, and they’ve opposed efforts for the Senate to get more evidence — from which any reasonable observer can conclude that they don’t believe the evidence will help Trump.
7. Democrats wanted to impeach Trump the entire time
This argument is remarkably common. If it were true, it wouldn’t really disprove the case against Trump, though it may serve to undermine the Democrats’ credibility.
But for anyone who’s actually been paying attention for the past year, the argument is obvious nonsense. The House Democrats have had to be pulled kicking and screaming toward impeachment by activists. Two of the most prominent figures in impeachment — Schiff and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — were among the most reticent to support the process, and there was a lot of Democratic infighting about the issue over the summer of 2019. As I explained above, they had plenty of justifications to impeach Trump prior to the Ukraine scandal, but for many reasons, they resisted going down this path.
Pelosi, Schiff, and others eventually came around to the idea of impeachment because they felt Trump’s actions demanded it.