His chief spokeswoman said he would be “working all day,” but U.S. President Donald Trump spent much of Wednesday tweeting and re-tweeting about impeachment.
He holed up in the White House residence in the morning before coming down to the Oval Office, fixated on a televised House debate about his fate while working the phones for real-time updates.
And he dispatched his staff to keep lawmakers in line and pump out messaging about the folly of trying to dethrone the 45th president.
On the day when House Democrats voted to impeach the president of the United States for only the third time in American history, Trump insisted his White House was winning a political war and maintaining business as usual — even as his overwhelming frustration with the process boiled over on Twitter and in private conversations. It was a day that displayed marked differences between the image Trump projects to supporters and the seething he often does in private.
By evening, he had flown to the swing state of Michigan to a campaign rally where he sought to project a nonchalant attitude and spoke about the economy, the Space Force and a military F-35 plane as the House tallied its votes.
“It doesn’t really feel like we are being impeached,” Trump told cheering supporters in Battle Creek at a winding rally that ran more than two hours. “We did nothing wrong. We have tremendous support in the Republican Party, like we’ve never had before.”
Trump even seemed touched when an aide carried a sign to the rally stage informing him of the vote tally and the fact that not a single Republican voted in favor of removing him from office. “The Republican party has never been so affronted but they have never been so united as they are right now,” Trump said.
Trump is taking impeachment incredibly personally, allies said, viewing it as a direct attack on him rather than the actions he took in office to request Ukraine investigate a political rival, Joe Biden, and delay military aid to Ukraine.
But in recent days, he also has taken solace in new polls that show his approval rating rising among independent voters during the impeachment proceedings. He’s been comforted by the unity of Republicans on Capitol Hill; not a single House Republican voted in favor of the two articles of impeachment Wednesday evening. Trump was late to take the stage at his own rally because he wanted to watch Republicans support him on the House floor, Vice President Mike Pence told the crowd.
“He doesn’t like the word ‘impeachment’ or the process, but strategically, this has worked out to his advantage,” said former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a longtime friend and ally of the president. “I think he is quite happy to have the Democrats stay mired in this universe they have created for themselves.”
SUCH ATROCIOUS LIES BY THE RADICAL LEFT, DO NOTHING DEMOCRATS. THIS IS AN ASSAULT ON AMERICA, AND AN ASSAULT ON THE REPUBLICAN PARTY!!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2019
Although the White House press secretary assured reporters earlier Wednesday that Trump was busy working and only “between meetings” catching snippets of the action on the House floor, his Twitter feed belied that claim and showed a president obsessed with the historic nature of this day.
Through four dozen tweets and retweets, Trump did not shy away from weighing in on his favorite medium. “SUCH ATROCIOUS LIES BY THE RADICAL LEFT, DO NOTHING DEMOCRATS. THIS IS AN ASSAULT ON AMERICA, AND AN ASSAULT ON THE REPUBLICAN PARTY!!!!,” he tweeted around lunchtime Wednesday.
Apart from a routine intelligence briefing, Trump had nothing on his publicly released schedule until late afternoon, when he left the White House for the Michigan campaign rally.
Minutes before he departed, the president was spotted in the Oval Office with the White House’s top attorney Pat Cipollone, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Stephen Miller and other top aides, reviewing large posters including one that showed his 2016 presidential election results.
As he exited the West Wing and walked across the lawn, a huge contingent of White House staffers and visitors lined up along the south portico to cheer him on, and he walked the rope line shaking hands and smiling. He did not take any questions from the gathered reporters. An aide later loaded one of the posters onto the presidential helicopter.
Trump waited to fully respond to House Democrats until he was surrounded by avid supporters in a critical swing state, creating a split-screen moment of the president bashing impeachment just as House lawmakers cast their votes. In Michigan, he painted the impeachment as a “political suicide mark for the Democratic Party” and an effort by liberals to undermine the legitimacy of his presidency.
His anger has been bubbling under the surface for months. “I talked to him last night. He’s upset,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump confidante and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “But this is the hand he’s been dealt. The last week he’s probably done more in a week than most presidents do in a year.”
“Clinton’s entire strategy was to prove that he could govern and still be president while impeachment was happening. That was a pretty effective strategy,” — Chris Murphy
“He feels like he’s been treated unfairly,” Graham said. “It’s been a never-ending effort to undermine his presidency and that it’s a partisan exercise without having merit. Now, having said that, he’s capable of doing two things at once. We’ve done a lot of things the past week, from budget deals to deals with China.”
Democrats declared that Trump was falling far short of former President Bill Clinton’s example of a master multi-tasker amid an effort to oust him from office.
“Clinton’s entire strategy was to prove that he could govern and still be president while impeachment was happening. That was a pretty effective strategy,” said Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Trump “could be spending this week talking about the budget and the trade agreement. But he’s not doing that. Nor did anyone expect him to.”
Along with his Christmas card from the White House, Murphy also received a copy of the bombastic six-page letter Trump sent Pelosi — real evidence that Trump is consumed with impeachment no matter how he spins it.
The White House hasn’t been surprised that Democrats almost unanimously fell in line to vote for impeachment. Aides say their view all along has been that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would not have proceeded if she didn’t have the votes or if she faced any risk of double-digit defections.
Around the White House, aides viewed the day of the House impeachment vote as a relatively normal one in a Trump White House that’s been under siege across key fights over three years: firing of the FBI director, the Mueller investigation and now impeachment.
“Generally speaking, it’s fine,” said one White House aide, describing the mood within the West Wing. “We’ve known this was coming for a long time.”
Several White House aides from the acting chief of staff’s office, the legislative affairs team, the counsel’s office and the communications team camped out in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to monitor the House proceedings and fire off talking points in real time to Trump surrogates and offices on Capitol Hill, a practice honed during the weeks of public hearings and testimony.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway visited Senate Republicans midday for an hour, along with White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland, to discuss impeachment and the legislative agenda.
Conway offered polls to the Senate Republicans, some of whom will face difficult reelection bids, as she argued that voting to remove the president is wrong both politically and on the merits.
“It doesn’t make any sense to either impeach the president or convict the president,” said Senator Rick Scott (Republican-Florida), describing Conway’s presentation to the Republicans.
“We see increasingly the polling is going in favor of no impeachment and removal from office,” Conway told reporters after the session. “I was very happy to deliver that message to Republicans in the Senate.” (A new national poll, released Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, showed the country was evenly divided about removing the president from office.)
Conway said Trump is frustrated with the probe but happy about how the end of the year has come together. Congress passed a sweeping defense bill with paid family leave for federal workers. Lawmakers are poised to pass a huge spending bill that Trump supports. And on Thursday, the House will clear the president’s new North American trade deal.
Those deals could just as easily be credited to Pelosi’s House Democrats — but Trump’s aides and allies don’t see it that way.
“He’s used to being in the public eye and getting criticism from political opponents. So, I think in the end, he’ll do fine” — Rand Paul
“The president feels that it’s a sham and a shame for his country, but it hasn’t stopped him from having two of the best weeks of this presidency,” Conway said.
Apart from feeling triumphant about the way he could turn impeachment to his advantage for his 2020 reelection campaign, Trump also expressed anger to his allies and lawmakers.
“Of course, he’s mad. I’m mad. We’re all mad. This is outrageous,” said Republican Senator David Perdue of Georgia. “I think he’s buoyed up. The fact that it’s two articles of impeachment and they’re so weak? This shows what a travesty this is.”
Other lawmakers said the impeachment proceedings would end up working out fine for the real estate developer-turned-president who does not historically shy away from conflict.
“When I have talked to him … I’ve felt like he’s a guy who’s been through a lot of this his entire life. His is a life that’s full of controversy. It always has , and he doesn’t shrink away from it. I don’t think it affects him that much in the sense that’s used to it,” said Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. “He’s used to being in the public eye and getting criticism from political opponents. So, I think in the end, he’ll do fine.”
Already, White House aides are looking toward the Senate impeachment trial in January and gaming out the best way to defend the president. Republicans close to the White House expect lawyer Pat Cipollone to take the lead in defending in the president, though a senior administration official stressed no final decisions have been made yet on the legal team.
Several top Trump allies are jockeying for a spot on that legal team and floating various names, yet few White House officials believe attorney Alan Dershowitz should play any type of role in the Senate trial, despite the president’s affinity for him, said another senior administration official.
Senate Republicans have the impression that the White House opposes Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s request for administration officials to be witnesses in the trial, according to two attendees at Wednesday’s lunch with Conway and Ueland.
Trump said Wednesday night he knows the Republicans in the Senate will “do the right thing.”
Trump “feels like this has been an unfair process. And he’s right about that. It has been in the House. And the fact that it’s even going out in the first place,” said Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the majority whip. “But I think he’s a realist and knows now the opportunity to defend himself is in the Senate, and he’ll get that chance and hopefully we’ll get this behind us and move on to other things.”
Meridith McGraw, Marianne LeVine and Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.
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