Weeks of leaked witness testimony from the House impeachment investigation may have painted an unflattering picture of President Trump in the media, but it has failed to weaken his GOP wall in the Senate, where lawmakers have shrugged off the proceedings.
“Unless there is something else that shows up somewhere, we don’t see this as an impeachable offense,” Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said Wednesday.
Democrats running the impeachment proceedings staggered the release of deposition transcripts this week for maximum effect — unmasking the testimony most damaging to Trump.
On Tuesday, they publicized the transcripts of U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gary Sondland. The transcript showed Sondland revised his earlier testimony to acknowledge that he told Ukraine government officials they must publicly agree to investigate Hunter Biden, son of former Vice President Joe Biden, in order to receive critical security aid.
The admission, Democrats said, confirmed the “quid pro quo” they say existed but which Trump has repeatedly denied.
“Even if there were a quid pro quo that does not rise to the level of impeachment,” said Sen. David Perdue, a Georgia Republican.
Senate Republicans don’t seem to care about the conditions Trump set for delivering Ukraine aid and argued both political parties engage in quid pro quo negotiations with foreign countries seeking help from the United States.
Rounds pointed to Biden, who was recorded in 2018 bragging about using his role as vice president to force Ukraine to fire a certain prosecutor.
Biden didn’t say why the Obama Administration wanted the prosecutor removed, but the prosecutor happened to be targeting the Burisma gas company that employed Hunter Biden.
“You have to understand, Joe Biden suggested they had six hours to respond to his demand they fire a prosecutor or there would be consequences,” Rounds said. “This type of diplomacy is hard to watch but nonetheless has existed and hardly rises to an impeachable offense.”
Republicans said Wednesday that constituents tell them they want to see action on the U.S. Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement, which has stalled in the House, as well as legislation addressing the high cost of health care and prescription drugs.
Few constituents are asking lawmakers to eject the president from office.
“I don’t imagine the country is as fixated with this as we are,” Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said after he was peppered with questions about the newly released transcripts and the testimony of Sondland and other witnesses.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters this week that nothing revealed so far in the House impeachment proceedings would result in Senate Republicans convicting Trump of impeachment articles that he said the House “is hellbent” on sending to the Senate.
“If it were today, I don’t think there is any question it would not lead to a removal,” McConnell said.
Some Republicans are less enthusiastic in their defense of the president.
Rep. Lamar Alexander, who is retiring, said he’s waiting to see the evidence that would be presented if the House sends the Senate impeachment articles that would trigger a Senate trial.
“I thought the call was inappropriate, that impeachment is a mistake, and that I’m a potential juror, and that I’ll listen to all the arguments and make a decision,” said the Tennessee Republican. “And I won’t have anything to say about impeachment until then.”
Sen. John Kennedy said the president potentially had legitimate reasons for wanting Ukraine to investigate Biden’s effort to oust the prosecutor.
Biden was President Barack Obama’s point person for Ukraine and China.
Biden’s son, Hunter, subsequently secured very lucrative business deals with both countries, Kennedy noted.
“You know what that message sends to the world? That America can be bought like a sack of potatoes,” Kennedy told the Washington Examiner. “That is relevant. And I don’t see how you can litigate the president’s guilt or innocence without litigating whether he had a good faith basis for believing there could have been corruption.”
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