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How Are Republicans Going To Explain Voting Against an “Obstruction” Article of Impeachment?

December 10, 2019
How Are Republicans Going To Explain Voting Against an “Obstruction” Article of Impeachment?

Will Hurd has had enough.

During the open impeachment hearing on November 21, Hurd used his time to issue a statement declaring that he was against impeachment. The nub of his argument is the following:

  • Trump’s July 25 phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky was “inappropriate,” “misguided foreign policy” and “not how the executive should handle such things.”
  • Hurd “disagrees” with such “bungling foreign policy.”
  • This bungling “undermined our national security.”
  • Also “[t]here’s also a lot we do not know. We have not heard from Rudy Giuliani. We haven’t heard from Hunter Biden.”
  • But “an impeachable offense should be compelling, overwhelming, clear and unambiguous.
  • “And it’s not something to be rushed or taken lightly. I’ve not heard evidence proving the president committed bribery or extortion.”

And just like that—poof—Hurd absolved himself of needing to support any forthcoming articles of impeachment.

Which is absurd.

“Impeachment” is not a monolith.

It is not an omnibus bill, a comprehensive piece of legislation in which House members can say they like some parts, but deem others unacceptable, and then declare that they have no choice but to vote against the whole megillah.

Soon, possibly this week, the House will assemble several articles of impeachment. These will be voted on, first by the Judiciary Committee and then by the full House. Members can vote for all of them, some of them, or none of them.

The reason the articles of impeachment are so constructed is to create maximum consensus and avoid the creation of poison pills. Instead of having “impeachment” be only as strong as its weakest link, the articles are siloed so that only the strongest arguments are forwarded to the Senate to be tried.

One of the articles of impeachment Hurd is likely to vote on will be obstruction of justice related to the president’s refusal to allow key witnesses—Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pompeo, Mike Pence, Rick Perry, and Mark Esper, among them—to testify before the House impeachment inquiry.

How in the world could Hurd not vote in favor of such an article of impeachment?

Hurd says—right there—that “There’s also a lot we do not know.”

Why do we not know it? Because the people in a position to deliver the most complete evidence have been shielded from testifying by the president of the United States.

Ask yourself: If this bungling scheme which undermined America’s national security—Hurd’s words, not mine—had a perfectly innocent explanation, then why wouldn’t the president allow his advisors to testify to it?

The fact that Trump has not allowed them to testify is, all on its own, an obstruction into the House’s constitutionally-sanctioned overview of the executive.

If Hurd truly believes the things he said—that this is serious, that what the president did was not good, that there are too many facts we do not know—then he would seem to have no choice but to vote in favor of an article of impeachment for obstruction of justice.

Because at the end of the day, there are only three logically consistent views available for House members:

  1. The president did absolutely nothing wrong.
  2. The president did something very wrong and should be tried for these actions in the Senate.
  3. The president may have done something wrong, but we do not have enough evidence to know definitively because he has obstructed justice.

“It’s bad, but we don’t know enough, so we can’t impeach” is a ludicrous position.

And Will Hurd is not a ludicrous man.

So why is he trying to make this position work?

Part of the reason is that Option Number 1—let’s call it the Nunes Gambit—is more or less inoperable outside of a four-hour block of Fox New Channel prime-time.

Seventy-percent of Americans—that’s “70,” seven-zero—say that what Trump did with regard to Ukraine was wrong. This is not a one-off. Fivethirtyeight did a series of questions in which they tried to disentangle partisan judgements from partisan beliefs and the impeachment process. They asked: If it could be proved that Trump withheld military aid in order to force Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, would that be appropriate? And 79 percent said it would not be appropriate.

So nobody outside the base thinks Trump had a “perfect” call with Zelensky.

Option two—let’s call it the Full Monty—has more support than you might think. Overall support for impeach-and-remove is sitting at 47 percent, at roughly +4 over “don’t impeach.”

But when you separate out “start the impeachment process” from “remove Trump from office,” support jumps: It’s currently at 52 percent and +10 over “don’t start impeachment.”

So the Full Monty isn’t a bad spot to be in right now.

And then there’s the third option, the Modified Limited Hangout, which is where, by normal political lights, Republicans like Will Hurd should be. And this is where the numbers get nuts: 76 percent of voters say the administration should fully cooperate with the impeachment inquiry. Only 18 percent think the administration shouldn’t cooperate.

Why would any Republican be willing to hang their hat on that 18 percent?

The answer, of course, is because they are what we thought they were.

You might remember that back in July, Trump told four Democratic congresswomen that they should “go back” to the countries they came from. All four of these duly-elected representatives of the American people were U.S. citizens. Three of them were born in the United States.

The public generally thought that what the president said was bad. Very bad.

In a Fox News poll, 63 percent of voters said that Trump had “crossed the line.” In a USA Today poll, 59 percent of the public said that Trump’s remarks were “un-American.” A Quinnipiac poll found 51 percent of people went so far as to say that they actually thought the president of the United States was “a racist.”

Reminder: It is difficult to get a flat majority of people in this country to agree on anything. The percentage of people who thought that what Trump said was okey-dokey was not far off the percentage who believe in ghosts.

And yet, when the House took up a non-binding resolution to condemn Trump’s attack against their fellow members, only four Republicans voted for it.

That’s right. Four of them.

This resolution meant nothing. It was simply a demonstration of criticism of the president’s statement. There was no censure attached to it, no consequences. The public agreed with it. And even then, with the facts completely established, public opinion overwhelmingly against Trump, and the stakes set firmly at nothing, Republicans wouldn’t vote against him.

So when Republicans in the House now claim that, by golly, they just can’t vote for impeachment because the facts are a muddle. Or because the country is divided. Or because the stakes are too high—whatever. Remember: They refused to vote against Trump six months ago when none of those conditions were at play.

The kicker in all this, of course, is that Will Hurd was one of the four Republican members who did vote for the resolution condemning Trump’s “go back” to where you came from.

Since then, Hurd has announced his retirement from the House. He has nothing to run for. No skin in the game. On impeachment, he is as free to vote his conscience as a House Republican can possibly be.

And yet, here we are, with Hurd claiming that he will vote against impeachment even though he thinks what Trump did hurt America’s interests and even though he tacitly admits that the administration has prevented the House from obtaining all of the relevant information.

Maybe Hurd will reconsider once he’s confronted with an actual article of impeachment on Trump’s obstruction of justice.

Or maybe we’ve reached the end of the line where to be a Republican—any kind of Republican, even a Trump-skeptic who isn’t running for office—you simply have to be all-in on Trump.

No matter what.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.