“It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) in a statement Thursday night. “The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did.”
“I have said consistently for the past four months, since the Zelensky transcript was first released, that I believe that some of the president’s actions in this case — including asking a foreign country to investigate a potential political opponent and the delay of aid to Ukraine — were wrong and inappropriate,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) in a statement Friday morning.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) didn’t go quite as far as those two, but in a lengthy statement Friday, he said that what Trump is accused of could merit impeachment. But he doesn’t think impeachment is right for the country now: “Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a president from office.”
To anyone objectively following the facts, it’s not a surprise that the facts lead them to believe Trump used Ukraine for his own political benefit. To further erode any doubts, former national security adviser John Bolton confirms in leaked manuscripts of his book that Trump said explicitly that security assistance should be withheld until Ukraine to announced investigations into former vice president Joe Biden. Trump’s former chief of staff John Kelly said this week that he believes Bolton. And new reporting Friday from the New York Times says Bolton names names about which aides Trump wanted to help with that.
It seems there was just too much evidence for these Republicans to ignore — a lot of it from fellow conservatives. From there, they had to consider whether that merits Congress kicking a duly elected president out of office. During the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, there was a similar overwhelming acceptance on both sides that the president lied under oath to a grand jury about an affair. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a Clinton ally, was pushing for a vote to censure Clinton as an off-ramp to convicting him.
But in this political climate, it’s remarkable to hear Republican officials — some of whom don’t have plans to retire as Alexander will — criticize the president. And not just criticize the president’s actions, but to agree that House Democrats are right about what Trump did. And to do it all at such a public moment, in such a public forum, as a Senate impeachment trial.
Former Arizona senator Jeff Flake, who briefly held up Trump’s Supreme Court pick Brett M. Kavanaugh in 2018, has described the current political climate as “tribal” and said protesters were outside his home then. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) got blackballed within the GOP, essentially, for saying Trump engaged in “impeachable conduct” related to the Mueller report on Russian interference.
Critics could reasonably respond that these three senators I mentioned aren’t voting for witnesses and they certainly aren’t going to vote to convict Trump. Their words are critical of the president; their actions support him.
But the facts are such that to protect Trump from more witnesses and impeachment, a number of Republicans have to publicly acknowledge he did it.