Fearful Of Trump, Republicans Refuse To Answer A Simple Question

Fear of Donald Trump and his minions is making it hard for Republicans to answer a simple question.

The Associated Press notes that Republicans are having an awfully difficult time coming up with an answer to a seemingly simple question:

 A simple yes-or-no question keeps tripping up Senate Republicans: Should the president ask foreign countries to investigate political rivals?

A month ago the question was a legal and constitutional no-brainer. It’s illegal to accept foreign help in a political campaign, an action that also raises questions about U.S. sovereignty. But President Donald Trump last week forcefully defended his right to do so as he publicly called on both China and Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s son, Hunter. A private request for Ukraine to launch a probe triggered an impeachment inquiry in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

On Thursday, two Republican senators — Joni Ernst of Iowa and Cory Gardner of Colorado — repeatedly refused to answer reporters’ questions on whether a president should make such a request of a rival power. “I don’t know that we have that information in front of us,” Ernst said in Iowa, even though the president made the request in front of cameras on the White House lawn.

In Denver, Gardner likewise wouldn’t answer reporters’ variations on the question 12 separate times before an appearance with the Colorado Chamber of Commerce. Like Ernst, he tried to punt to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating the circumstances around Trump’s private call with Ukraine. “It’s an answer that you get from a very serious investigation,” Gardner told reporters when asked about the appropriateness of the president’s public comments.

The hesitance of the two senators, who are both up for re-election next year in competitive states, contrasted with the stances of two Republicans not facing the voters anytime soon. On Wednesday, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who is retiring next year, said in a statement that it was “inappropriate” for Trump to make his request. But, Alexander added, impeachment would be a “mistake.”

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who was easily re-elected in 2016, told reporters on Tuesday that Trump’s request was “wrong” but argued it isn’t an impeachable offense.

(…)

Ernst and Gardner also tried to turn the question into an attack on the other party. After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted a video of Ernst refusing to answer questions about a president’s overseas call for political help, Ernst tweeted back: “Actually, American elections should be decided by ELECTIONS. Not politicians. I know you’re still upset about the results from 2016, but people here in Iowa would sure appreciate it if you spent less time playing political games and actually brought #USMCAnow up for a vote.” USMCA is the acronym of a new version of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In Denver, Gardner also tried to turn his awkward situation into an opportunity to attack Pelosi and Democrats. He contended that Democrats were looking for an excuse to remove Trump from office.

CBS News makes note of a similar phenomenon:

On Thursday, “CBS This Morning” co-hosts Anthony Mason and Tony Dokoupil pressed Republican Senator Rand Paul on whether the president was wrong to ask Zelensky to investigate the Bidens. And repeatedly, Paul skirted directly answering. Here is their exchange: 

“Is it wrong, or isn’t it?” asked “CBS This Morning” co-host Anthony Mason, of the president’s request to investigate the Bidens. 

“Well the — no I think it’s not incorrect or wrong to,” Paul responded.

“It’s okay for the president to be—” Mason questioned. 

“Well, no, let me finish,” Paul said. “What I would say is that aid that we give to other countries should be contingent upon behavior. And whether or not we should have Ukraine trying to eradicate corruption, yes.”

“This was specifically about Mr. Biden,” Mason interjected.

“Well, I don’t know, ask the American people if they think $50,000—” Paul said. 

“I’m asking you. You’re a senator,” Mason said. 

“Well I know, but ask the American people do you think $50,000 a month that Hunter Biden was getting might have been corrupt?” Paul said. 

“You were running for president in 2016 — would you have done this if you were elected?” co-host Tony Dokoupil said. 

“I think everybody has different ways that they would approach things,” Paul said. 

“You, sir, you,” Dokoupil said. 

“Well, the thing is, now we’re getting down to whether or not it’s personality and how he interacted in a phone call. Do you impeach people because he has a more direct way of approaching?” Paul said. 

“It’s not a question of impeachment. It’s a question of, is it right or wrong to ask a foreign leader to ask in an election? With — by the way — nearly $400 million in aid hanging over his head?” Mason said. 

“I guess the thing is, would you say we can’t investigate corruption if they happen to be a political figure?” Paul said. 

A handful of Republicans have taken a different tactic, suggesting the president was joking or unserious when he openly called on China to investigate the Bidens in front of dozens of journalists and cameras on the White House South Lawn.

BRENNAN: Are you comfortable with what the president has said here in this call for foreign governments Ukraine and China to investigate his political opponent?

BLUNT: Well I- I doubt if the China comment was serious to tell you the truth. The president—

BRENNAN: You don’t take the president —

BLUNT: The president —

BRENNAN: — at his word?

BLUNT: No, the president loves to go out on the — on the White House driveway. I haven’t talked to him about this. I don’t know what the president was thinking. But I do know he loves to bait the press and he does that almost every day…

Some have gone as far as Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who says he didn’t see anything wrong with the Ukraine call as summarized. But Graham did have concerns about any request about China.

“I’m okay with what the president did,” Graham told WSPA. “I don’t think he did anything wrong talking to the Ukraine cause we give them money and aid. I think it was wrong to ask China to investigate. I don’t trust China to be fair to anybody Trump, me, or you. So that was a mistake.”

The extent to which Republicans, especially Republicans in the Senate are weaseling around on this question is interesting for two reasons.

First, they are at least two some extent drawing a distinction between themselves and their colleagues in the House in that they aren’t quite as eager to jump full-in on the spin and propaganda that the White House dishes out on this issue. There’s a distinct difference, for example, between what you hear from a Senator like Cory Gardner and what you hear from Congressmen like Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan. At least part of that difference, of course, is due to the fact that Gardner is running for re-election in a state that is at least purple and turning more and more Democratic by the day. That can be best seen in recent polls that show the freshman Republican trailing his most likely opponent former Governor John Hickenlooper. The most recent poll of the state from Emerson College, for example, shows Hickenlooper ahead by fourteen points. Jordan and Matthews, by contrast, come from solidly red districts, meaning that whether they actually believe it or not they need to show complete loyalty to Trump to keep their jobs.

Second, the Republicans who are weaseling obviously seem to want to say something but feel as if they can’t do so without risking Trump lashing out against them and the Republican base, which is entirely behind Trump, turning against them. The exceptions to this rule are those Senators, such as Mitt Romney, who can be confident that they have their own base of support back home that doesn’t depend on fealty to Trump. Additionally, some of these Republican Senators need to play both sides of the street because they live in states where being overly close to the President could end up coming back to bite them in the General Election. Because of this, they’re generally doing their best to avoid taking a stand either way.

Obviously voters should not let them get away with this. Whether you’re a Trump supporter, a NeverTrump-er, or something else voters deserve to know where their representatives stand on the seemingly simple question of whether or not it’s wrong for a President to seek foreign assistance in trying to bring down a political rival. The fact that they cannot or will not do so says all that needs to be said about them.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Congress, Donald Trump, Impeachment, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. DrDaveT says:

    The follow-up question I want to hear, every time, is “OK, could you give me an example of a crime the President could confess to that you would say was an impeachable offense?” When the answer is “murder”, ask “Is that it? Are there any less serious crimes that you think would deserve impeachment?”

    And, of course, for any Senator who voted to impeach Bill Clinton, the follow-up writes itself…

    5
  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    The contrast with the Democratic debate last night could not be more stark. Democrats engaged in an actual debate on actual issues they actually care about, while Republicans hid under their beds lest cult leader point them out as apostates.

    8
  3. SenyorDave says:

    The Democrats should have a ton of ads focusing on the fact that Trump and the Republicans are okay with asking foreign entities for help with elections, and even using American aid as leverage. This needs to be hammered home every chance they get.

    6
  4. gVOR08 says:

    Comparing this to the Clinton impeachment is pointless. They knew they were doing it as a political hatchet job. They’d been looking for something, anything, for years and they finally stumbled over something they could use.Weak, but the best they could get. In their minds Schiff is doing the same thing, and just lucked into better dirt. They’re incapable of realizing their guy actually deserves impeachment. Hypocrisy is irrelevant to people who can’t feel shame. And the next time they have a majority in the House and a D prez, they’ll impeach. And regard it as fair tit for tat. Even if the best they have is wearing a tan suit.

    12
  5. Jay L Gischer says:

    This feels so much to me like the presidency of Andrew Jackson, and the concept of “popular sovereignty” which to me is a euphemism that means the president gets to do whatever he wants as long as he has enough political support.

    So. What is needed is to change the minds of another 10-15 percent of the population. We are close, and the stuff with Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman has the potential to do exactly that. Bolton’s testimony might do it, too.

    2
  6. Scott says:

    I just don’t understand any fear of this whiny, spineless coward. This is a guy who can’t fire people to their face. Fear of the base? Please, followers of this guy have to be birds of a feather.

    What’s he going to do? Yell and tweet?

    Makes me even more afraid for this country if our political leaders are so shallow and weak.

    6
  7. CSK says:

    Cult45 is really, really enjoying their newfound power; they believe the Republicans have ignored, betrayed, and treated them with as much contempt as the Democrats.

    4
  8. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Cowards. Each and every one of them.

    2
  9. Kathy says:

    The military awards the Purple Heart.

    The Senate should award the Yellow Belly.

    4
  10. the Q says:

    “Senator, do you or do you not like it when President Trump grabs your wife’s pu ssy?”

    “Congressmen Jordan, what do you think of Senator Warren’s request to the Russians to find any kiddie porn on your computer? And what about her request to the German gov’t to find Trump’s tax returns?”

    3
  11. Chip Daniels says:

    Another way to0 see it is that they are not “weak”.

    They are liars. They are trying to avoid saying the simple truth, which is that yes they think it is perfectly fine, so long as the President is Republican and the opponent is a Democrat.

    The Republicans don’t support liberal democracy, where the opposing party is legitimate. They are a radical group that refuses to accept any rule other than themselves as legitimate and therefore whatever tactics they take are acceptable.

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  12. Kathy says:

    Moscow Mitch is planning on wrapping up the Senate trial by the end of the year.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I mislike, deeply, the idea of putting a time limit on a trial. There is much at stake, and all the evidence and testimony, from both sides, ought to be considered fully. Not limited by a clock, as though it were some sort of game.

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  13. DrDaveT says:

    @Chip Daniels:

    They are trying to avoid saying the simple truth, which is that yes they think it is perfectly fine, so long as the President is Republican and the opponent is a Democrat.

    Of course. So the trick is to get them on the record either saying they’d be equally fine with the same set of facts if it were a Democrat in the White House, or that it’s unacceptable for any President. There’s really no other option, and they know it. If they won’t take one of those positions, you publicly call them on their hypocrisy.

    3
  14. DrDaveT says:

    @Kathy:

    I mislike, deeply, the idea of putting a time limit on a trial

    Indeed, the Democrats should agree that the amount of time spent investigating Benghazi makes a reasonable target, given the importance of getting it right.

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  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Chip Daniels: THIS!!!d

  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    deleted duplicate comment

  17. An Interested Party says:

    And to think that this is supposed to be the daddy party…these are supposed to be the tough guys and gals who will take on any opponent, foreign or domestic…more like a bunch of shitty quislings…

    4
  18. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    @CSK:

    Cult45 is really, really enjoying their newfound power; they believe the Republicans have ignored, betrayed, and treated them with as much contempt as the Democrats.

    The Republican leadership DID ignore, betray, and treat them with MORE contempt than the Democrats. They were happy to ride social issues and propaganda to get elected for decades, without ever actually caring much about abortion, gay rights, or anything except tax cuts. And I doubt anyone was more shocked when the monster they built with their BS turned around to bite them the last few years.

    PS: don’t expect them to show much awareness of this

    2
  19. Jax says:

    Sweet baby Jesus, I saw the formatting and knew immediately who it was. What kind of word processing software is she using that it comes out that badly?!

    4
  20. MarkedMan says:

    The Republican Party, aka Ye Olde Partey of Sir Robin

  21. Teve says:

    @Jax: when you copy text posted on simple websites, HTML can introduce all these end-of-line formatting bugs. Cris is c&p’ing campaign text of hers you can find on Google.

    2
  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Cris Ericson: That’s an interesting thesis. And if you can prove that Hunter Biden has no assets that are NOT from foreign entities, you may be on to something. If you can’t you may need to look up the definition of “fungible.”

    3
  23. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Cris Ericson: That’s an interesting thesis. And if you can prove that Hunter Biden has no assets that are NOT from foreign entities, you may be on to something. If you can’t you may need to look up the definition of “fungible.”

  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Cris Ericson: That’s an interesting thesis. And if you can prove that Hunter Biden has no assets that are NOT from foreign entities, you may be on to something. If you can’t you may need to look up the definition of “fungible.”

  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Cris Ericson: That’s an interesting thesis. And if you can prove that Hunter Biden has no assets that are NOT from foreign entities, you may be on to something. If you can’t you may need to look up the definition of “fungible.”

    1
  26. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Cris Ericson: That’s an interesting thesis. And if you can prove that Hunter Biden has no assets that are NOT from foreign entities, you may be on to something. If you can’t you may need to look up the definition of “fungible.”

  27. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy:

    Maybe it’s just me, but I mislike, deeply, the idea of putting a time limit on a trial.

    Pelosi, Schiff, and everybody else involved know McConnell and Co. will not convict. The political game is not to remove Trump, but to keep a flow of negative stories in the press until the election. McConnell would like to close that off. He can’t, as timing of any actual bill of impeachment is entirely in the hands of the House Ds. But he can set up an argument that he’s ready to hold a trial but the Ds aren’t, so it’s a fishing expedition and they must not really have anything. It’s a variation on their argument that you can’t investigate if you don’t already have proof.

    Seems weak to me, but what else can he do? He can’t argue the facts. He reportedly pushed for a resolution that the Senate doesn’t see the Ukraine call as impeachable, and failed to get his caucus to go along.

    And in the meantime we all hope, despite the evidence of today’s meeting with Pelosi, that Trump doesn’t go completely off his nut and do something even worse than abandoning the Kurds.

    1
  28. Nickel Front says:

    When the corruption allegations involve a foreign country, the answer is yes.

    When you have a politically connected coke addict with no experience hired for a high paying, high level job, and when the VP brags about getting a prosecutor looking into him fired, it’s entirely appropriate to ask if there was any corruption there. Because it sure looks like they were paying for influence and access to affect policy.

    If Biden didn’t happen to be running would the inquiry be acceptable to you?

    We’ve spent over two years dealing with an investigation into a presidential candidate (now president) based on a phony document from a foreign source, that was all started by a sitting president.

    If Biden is corrupt, as publicly available information certainly suggests, why do you not want to know? To paraphrase from some of the comments above, there is so much at stake here, we NEED to know if Biden is compromised.

  29. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The GOP is RICO.

    4
  30. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Nickel Front:

    If Biden is corrupt, as publicly available information certainly suggests,

    Get your head out of Roger Ailes’ zombie asshole for just 15 minutes and you will quickly come to the certain realization that the “publicly available information” suggests nothing of the sort. I mean, ask yourself, if what you assert is true, why is the trump admin so desperate for the Ukrainians to manufacture evidence to support this conspiracy theory?

    8
  31. CSK says:

    OT: Elijah Cummings has died.

  32. Lounsbury says:

    @Nickel Front:

    If Biden is corrupt, as publicly available information certainly suggests,

    Nothing outside of Russian dezinformatsia suggests such a thing.

    Rather sad to see the US right lapping up Russian dezinformatsia, but one supposes it is useful to see that not only the Left is capable of Party Political groupthink and self-deception.

    I used to wonder how Bolshevism worked in this fashion.

    We can see sadly rather clearly with the degeneracy of American (and now infecting British, to the collective great disgust) Conservatism, the psychology of Bolshevist logic can work on the right as well.

    4
  33. An Interested Party says:

    …and when the VP brags about getting a prosecutor looking into him fired…

    Another lie…how typical of anyone defending Trump…

    Biden called for Ukraine to fire Shokin, the prosecutor general, but so did many others. The facts show that Biden wanted Shokin removed due to widespread concerns that Shokin was ineffective in pursuing corruption cases — not that he was too aggressively pursuing cases. The Trump campaign cites Shokin himself, but he is not a reliable source.

    4
  34. mattbernius says:

    @Nickel Front:
    Thank you for sharing your heartfelt concerns about corruption in past administrations.

    I look forward to your impassioned defense of how holding next year’s G7 retreat at Trump’s Doral property makes total sense and in no way will enrich the current President (especially given the lack of transparency into his finances).

    2
  35. DrDaveT says:

    @Nickel Front:

    If Biden didn’t happen to be running would the inquiry be acceptable to you?

    It’s a nonsense question. If Biden weren’t running, there wouldn’t be any inquiry. It’s like asking “If you’d never been born, would you be someone you liked?”

    3
  36. DrDaveT says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    The GOP is RICO.

    Quite probably, in fact. And I would pay good money to watch the prosecution make that case.

    1
  37. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: For the record and as a matter of idle curiosity, I would be interested to know if anyone can explain how my comment posted 5 times considering that when I left the site it hadn’t posted at all.

  38. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Nickel Front:

    When you have a politically connected coke addict with no experience hired for a high paying, high level job, and when the VP brags about getting a prosecutor looking into him fired, it’s entirely appropriate to ask if there was any corruption there. Because it sure looks like they were paying for influence and access to affect policy.

    Wow! Is that what Fox News and all are telling you the story is? That explains a lot. If I thought that was the story, I’d be outraged too.

    ETA: (Oh yeah, and I promise not to feed the troll again this thread. Sorry, I forgot this part.)

  39. Gustopher says:

    @Nickel Front: The prosecutor wasn’t fired until after he cleared Busima. If there was any corrupt intent, then Biden would be corruptly trying to get his kid prosecuted?

    Hey, some families are like that. But there’s no evidence of that here.

    The Joe Biden conspiracy theory falls apart because of the timeline.

    1
  40. DrDaveT says:

    @gVOR08:

    The political game is not to remove Trump, but to keep a flow of negative stories in the press until the election.

    I think there is also value in getting GOP senators to publicly defend the indefensible, or lie their asses off about the facts. That can be useful later.

    1