After Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) announced on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday afternoon that he will vote to convict President Donald Trump in the ongoing impeachment trial — becoming the only Republican expected to do so — the White House abruptly canceled a press event in the Oval Office.
Before Romney’s announcement, Trump had been expected to host a photo availability with reporters alongside Juan Guaido, the opposition leader supported by the U.S. in Venezuela. Foreign leaders, especially those in precarious positions like Guaido, often use such public meetings to demonstrate the public support they’ve garnered from the American government.
But CNBC reporter Eamon Javers explained: “Just as Sen. Romney finished speaking, the White House announced that reporters will now no longer be invited to the Oval Office for the pool spray that was scheduled at 2:15 pm. Reporters were already on the South Lawn and ready to go in when the WH cancelled it.”
During such events, reporters often toss out questions for the president to answer. Sometimes he ignores them, and sometimes he gives answers. But it seems likely that the White House and Republicans broadly were blindsided by Romney’s announcement, and they weren’t prepared to deliver a response. It’s possible Trump’s aides feared he might fly off the handle out of anger, or they wanted more time to prepare a more thought-out response to Romney’s news.
The development is a significant blow to Trump and all the Republicans who defended him. They’ve tried to cast the impeachment effort as a purely partisan plot to take down Trump, and they will no longer be able to make such a claim. (They had previously just ignored that Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who supported impeachment in the House, had been a Republican until his objections to Trump’s conduct led him to leave the party.)
Some Republican senators who had criticized the president’s conduct, even while saying they would vote to acquit, will be left flat-footed. Many pointed to the “partisan” nature of impeachment as their reason for voting to save the president, reasoning that was infuriatingly circular. Now, they don’t even have that thin fig leaf to hold on to.
CNN’s Bianna Golodryga pointed out that the cancellation of the Oval Office event was not a good sign for Guaido.
“Whatever the reason is for this, it’s a blow for Guaido and the show of support he was hoping for by sitting side by side with the President in the Oval Office,” she tweeted.
“White House was completely caught off guard by Romney’s vote,” said Michael Bender of the Wall Street Journal.