It’s getting harder to distract voters from Trump’s impeachable conduct

Republicans are trying to distract an increasingly uneasy public

Pres. Trump from the back leaving UN press conference
Pres. Donald Trump exits a press conference on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

As the House voted to proceed with an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump on Thursday, one Republican member after another rose to complain that impeachment is a “sham” and that the process is one-sided, unfair to the president and a distraction from more important national-security matters.

Never mind that Trump, and the Republicans themselves, demanded the full House vote. 

These are the same representatives who stormed a hearing room, disrupting testimony by Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, who was set to give a deposition before members of the House Intelligence Committee.

“Voting members of Congress are being denied access from being able to see what’s happening behind these closed doors,”  House Minority Whip and Freedom Caucus member Steve Scalise (R-La.) complained after barging into the hearing room.

Now the full House will hear testimony. But Scalise doesn’t like that, either. 

On Thursday, he described the impeachment inquiry as “Soviet-style” and a “sham,” while standing next to a poster of a communist hammer-and-sickle.

Complaining about the impeachment process is a good way for the Republicans to avoid talking about what is really at issue — Trump’s flagrant demand that a foreign government investigate a domestic political rival in exchange for military aid.

Congressman Mark Pocan (D-Black Earth) put it best: “Don’t forget we already have a motive. We have a crime. We have a confession and we have evidence.”

Impeaching Trump is Congress’ Constitutional duty, even if Republicans manage to convince Fox News viewers that somehow the process is just a partisan political maneuver by Democrats.

“They know that because there’s no special prosecutor handing us a case, like you had with the Clinton and the Nixon impeachments, we’ve had to do much of that work,” Pocan told Wisconsin Examiner right after the impeachment resolution vote. “That’s why much of this has been done behind closed doors with depositions.” 

The fact that the Republicans are focusing all of their complaints on the process “shows that you know they don’t have any arguments to justify what Donald Trump has done,” Pocan added.

Recent polls show that more and more voters favor impeachment.

A Quinnipiac University poll released on Oct. 23 shows support for impeachment proceedings reached a new high with 55% in favor and 43% opposed. 

Wisconsinites, while still split on the issue, have moved significantly, from 29% who said there was sufficient reason for an impeachment inquiry last April, to 46% in the most recent Marquette University Law School poll, released the same day.

Rep. Ron Kind (D-La Crosse), whose district went for Trump in 2016, and who has been cautious in his criticism of the president, seemed to signal shifting public opinion when he voted in favor of the impeachment inquiry on Thursday. 

Kind had strong words for president, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this week  that Trump’s behavior is  “not only illegal and unconstitutional and an abuse of power, but it’s also unpatriotic.”

“I would hope everyone would be at least deeply troubled and disturbed that we have a president actively encouraging a foreign government to mess with our election,” Kind added.

Trump’s defenders seem increasingly desperate to distract.

Former Wisconsin Congressman Sean Duffy, a staunch Trump defender, used his new platform as a commentator on CNN to undermine Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the military veteran and member of the National Security Council who testified that Trump violated national security with his Ukraine call. Duffy suggested that Vindman, who is of Ukrainian descent (he left the country when he was three years old), was disloyal. 

“It seems very clear that he is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense. I don’t know that he’s concerned about American policy,” Duffy said, echoing a Trump smear.

That kind of talk doesn’t play well outside the pro-Trump bubble. And it certainly doesn’t make Trump’s enablers look good.

This week’s vote, which cleared the way for televised impeachment hearings, will allow for a public airing of the details of Trump’s behavior that the White House has been loathe to share. Some of the same witnesses who have been deposed in private will give public testimony.

The American people will have a chance to judge for themselves. And that’s exactly what Trump and the Republicans fear most.

“Especially when you have a Department of Justice that says you can’t indict a sitting president,” says Pocan, “the only thing left by the Constitution is impeachment. Anything that any president would do that needs investigation — it’s only going to come from Congress.”

Good for Congress for doing its job.

Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine, and opened the Progressive’s office in Washington, DC, during the Clinton Administration, where she made her debut as a political pundit on CNN’s Capital Gang Sunday and Fox News. She moved to Oaxaca, Mexico, for a year in 2017, where she covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Donald Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on All in with Chris Hayes on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, and other radio and television programs. In 2011, she did award-winning coverage of the uprising against Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. Conniff graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal.