More GOP Senators question Trump’s actions

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Now there are four: Are more wavering?

Ohio’a Rob Portman Monday became the fourth Republican Senator to admit president Donald Trump’s use of his office to seek help from Ukraine and China to investigate a political appointment is “inappropriate.”

Portman joins Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Susan Collins of Maine to break from the Republican ranks in the Senate and raise questions about Trump’s actions that led to a formal impeachment inquiry against Trump.

“We now have cracks in the wall,” says one GOP senior staff member in the Senate.  “Will it start crumbling?”

While Portman admits Trump’s actions are “not appropriate,” he still claims he does not see them as “impeachable offenses” and feels the House “rushed to impeachment assuming things.”

But Trump is running into increasing questions from his one-solid wall of support from the GOP Senate.  Majority leader Mitch McConnell Monday joined a rare bi-partisan group of Republican and Democratic Senator in rebuking Trump’s plan to withdraw U.S. troopers from Syria.

“A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime,” McConnell said in a statement. “And it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup.”

McConnell says it is time for Trump to “exercise American leadership” by reconsidering his plans to pull troops back from the Syrian-Turkey border.  Other Republicans in the Senate agree.

“This betrayal of the Kurds will also severely harm our credibility as an ally the world over,” Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) said. “President Trump should rethink this decision immediately.”

Democrats have also condemned the withdrawal plans but the growing Republican opposition shows a new area of concern from Republicans.

“The Trump has made a great administration has made a grave mistake that will have implications,” said Sen. GOP Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

“So sad. So dangerous” says usually staunch Trump ally Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Twitter. “President Trump may be tired of fighting radical Islam.  They are NOT tired of fighting us.”

At least one Republican says criticism of the Syria move wile standing fast with Trump on the Ukraine debacle that has resulted in formal impeachment probes is hypocritical, at best.

“The Ukraine issue is personal, it is a real threat to the president, and a lot of Republicans know they will face his wrath if they defy him,” former congressman Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), a critic of Trump who was ousted in the 2018 midterms, tells The Washington Post. “The issue of our presence in Syria is more obviously a substantive policy issue, where it’s safer to disagree with the president. If Republicans want to be consistent, they should speak out about both.”

“They can speak up, but they can’t so anything,” says former senator Judd Gregg (R-NH).

One thing it has done is bring Republicans and Democrats together in a rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump.

McConnell says 68 Senators voted to rebuke Trump in January when he threatened to withdraw troops from Syria — a majority that overrides a presidential veto.

“The conditions that produced that bipartisan vote still exist today,” he says.

A joint statement from Sen. Romney (R-Utah) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn) adds:

Barring a reversal of this decision, the Administration must come before Congress and explain how betraying an ally and ceding influence to terrorists and adversaries is not disastrous for our national security interests.

With four Republican Senators also now saying Trump’s actions with Ukraine and China in asking for help to discredit former Vice President Joe Biden are “inappropriate” and “out of line,” some wonder if Trump’s hold on the GOP is weakening.

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Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

 

Trump & GOP: Corrupt traitors to America

Donald Trump (EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Notice to all who continue to support corrupt president Donald Trump and his immoral, unethical and illegal administration:  Your support shows contempt for America and makes you a traitor to your country.

The Republican Party of Trump abandoned all pretense of conservative values and patriotism when it became followers of the con artist and sexual predator who openly loots the U.S. Treasury to fatten his wallet.

“Trump’s contempt for law, propriety and process is boundless,” writes columnist Charles Blow in The York Times.

“This was the week that made it glaringly clear that the president put his fragile ego, idiotic conspiracy theories and political prospects ahead of American national security interests,” adds Maureen Dowd.

Cindy McCain, widow of the late Sen. John McCain, says the Republican Party of Trump is “not the party that my husband and I belonged to.”

“Donald Trump is not a patriot,” says Dana Milbank of The Washington Post. “Again and again, he has harmed the nation’s interests to further his own.”

Milbank adds:

He lies, he chases conspiracy theories, he’s racist, he abuses power, he’s cruel. The common thread — a unified theory of Trump, if you will — is that the man who promised an “America First” agenda is instead pursuing a “Trump First” agenda. This is the Me Presidency.

Max Boot says Trump is attempting a “coup against the checks and balances of the Constitution.”

And those who help him, he adds, are the Republicans who have abandoned America all that it is supposed to represent.

He adds:

The odds are that almost all will betray the country rather than the president. So here is the bitter irony: The “Republican” Party has become a threat to republican governance.

“An already unpopular president certainly cannot be given another term.” writes Jennifer Rubin.  “They might even conclude Republicans who protected him have not earned their ongoing trust.”

She suggests the GOP start paying more attention to new polls.

“Keep an eye on the polling,” she adds. “Republicans surely do, and right now it is telling them that leaving Trump on the ticket makes their political survival difficult, if not impossible.”

As a one-time GOP political operative (during an ill-conceived “sabbatical” to the bark side of politics), I saw the deterioration of the Republican Party from the inside.

One could ask if the party is even worth saving?  More important, however, is whether the nation should be saved.

Jeff Flake, a one-term GOP Senator who left because he could not stand Trump and probably not would not have survived his re-election effort in 2018, says his party must make the tough decision to put the nation above the questionable interests of the party that abandoned its principles.

He writes:

My fellow Republicans, it is time to risk your careers in favor of your principles. Whether you believe the president deserves impeachment, you know he does not deserve reelection.

Our country will have more presidents. But principles, well, we get just one crack at those. For those who want to put America first, it is critically important at this moment in the life of our country that we all, here and now, do just that.

Trust me when I say you can go elsewhere for a job. But you cannot go elsewhere for a soul.

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Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

With Trump, putting America first is not an option

In this Aug. 7, 1974 file photo, Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., center, speaks to reporters after meeting with President Richard Nixon at the White House to discuss Nixon’s decision on resigning. Flanked by Senate Republican Leader Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, left and House GOP Leader John Rhodes of Arizona, right, Goldwater said Nixon has made “no decision” on whether to resign. (AP Photo)

On Aug. 7, 1974, three top Republican leaders in Congress paid a solemn visit to President Richard Nixon at the White House, bearing the message that he faced near-certain impeachment due to eroding support in his own party on Capitol Hill. Nixon, who’d been entangled in the Watergate scandal for two years, announced his resignation the next day.

Could a similar drama unfold in later stages of the impeachment process that Democrats have now initiated against President Donald Trump? It’s doubtful. In Nixon’s time, there were conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans. Compromise was not treated with scorn.

In today’s highly polarized Washington, bipartisan agreement is a rarity. And Trump has taken over the Republican Party, accruing personal rather than party loyalty and casting the GOP establishment to an ineffectual sideline.

“In the past in the U.S., party members would dissociate themselves from disgraced leaders in order to preserve the party and their own reputations,” said professor Nick Smith, who teaches ethics and political philosophy at the University of New Hampshire. “But now President Trump seems to have such a personal hold on the party — more like a cult leader than a U.S. president — that the exits are closed as the party transforms into his image.”

The delegation that visited Nixon was headed by Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, the GOP’s unsuccessful presidential candidate in 1964. Goldwater, who had a long tenure as a party elder, was joined by Sen. Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, a Republican known for his strong support for civil rights, and Rep. John Rhodes of Arizona — the GOP leaders in their respective chambers.

They told Nixon there were no longer enough Republican votes to spare him from impeachment, given the release two days earlier of a 1972 tape recording contradicting Nixon’s tenacious denial of any role in cover-up of the Watergate break-in.

“He’d been proclaiming his innocence and suddenly they’ve got this evidence showing he’s been lying all this time,” said Thomas Schwartz, a history and political science professor at Vanderbilt University. “We don’t have the equivalent of that now.”

For now, though, Trump has a firewall in the form of Republicans who see more harm in opposing him than supporting him. Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, cited the increased political polarization of recent years as a reason why most Republican officials will stick with Trump “as long as their own status is not in danger.”

“For the president’s partisans in Congress, it’s ‘our guy on his worst day is better than your guy on his best day,’” Jillson said. “They stick with him to get the judicial appointments, the tax cuts.”

That would change if Trump’s troubles become so serious that congressional leaders think it will affect them and their party, Jillson said.

“Everyone among the Republicans in Congress has a beef with the president but they’re afraid of him,” said Jillson. “If he weakens, that fear will subside.”

The Watergate scandal overlapped with late stages of the Vietnam War, which had bedeviled both Nixon and his Democratic predecessor, Lyndon Johnson. In that era, Congress was more powerful in relation to the executive branch than it is now, with more leaders of national stature, several experts suggested.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, suggested that with the death last year of Arizona Sen. John McCain, there’s no Republican currently in Congress who could replicate Goldwater’s 1974 role.

“Who would go and be credible with Donald Trump, so that he would listen?” she asked. “Mitt Romney? Mitch McConnell? Lindsay Graham? Trump will turn on any of them the minute they say something uncongenial.”

A key then-and-now difference, Jamieson said, is that Goldwater represented the same conservative constituency as Nixon and conveyed the message that Nixon was losing its support.

Trump, she said, has a different relationship with his base than Nixon did with his: The base is loyal to Trump personally, rather than to a party establishment.

During Trump’s first two years in office, one of the few Republicans in Congress to tangle regularly with him was Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who decided not to seek reelection in 2018. In a column in The Washington Post on Oct. 1, Flake lambasted his fellow Republicans still in Congress for failure to break with Trump and oppose his reelection.

“At this point, the president’s conduct in office should not surprise us. But truly devastating has been our tolerance of that conduct,” Flake wrote. “From the ordeal of this presidency, perhaps the most horrible — and lasting — effect on our democracy will be that at some point we simply stopped being shocked.”

David Gibbs, a political science professor at the University of Arizona, recalled that Nixon had won reelection by a landslide in 1972, and yet many people who supported him, including Republicans in Congress, were willing to turn against him as evidence of a Watergate conspiracy accumulated.

In contrast, Gibbs now sees the United States as divided 50-50 along the “tribal lines” of Democrats versus Republicans, with Trump’s base remaining loyal no matter what sort of negative picture is painted by his critics.

“The two sides are roughly evenly matched, with neither one able to deliver a knockout blow, and thus there’s political paralysis,” Gibbs said. “The hyper-partisan tribalism makes bipartisan consensus for removing a president virtually impossible.”

Another big change since 1974 is the proliferation of media outlets and the advent of social media, which is used by Trump himself and partisans on all sides to promote their agendas and demonize opponents. Nixon had neither the equivalent of Fox News to support him nor the soapbox of Twitter to accuse his detractors of treason and witch-hunting.

The changing media landscape “has resulted in a political and news environment that moves at light speed compared with the Watergate era,” said David Cohen, a University of Akron political science professor. “The sheer information we are inundated with daily is like drinking out of a fire hose and it is impossible to swallow it all.”

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Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

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Supremes set to tackle abortion, immigration, LGBT rights

The Supreme Court is seen in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Abortion rights as well as protections for young immigrants and LGBT people top an election-year agenda for the Supreme Court. Its conservative majority will have ample opportunity to flex its muscle, testing Chief Justice John Roberts’ attempts to keep the court clear of Washington partisan politics.

Guns could be part of a term with plenty of high-profile cases and at least the prospect of the court’s involvement in issues revolving around the possible impeachment of President Donald Trump and related disputes between the White House and congressional Democrats.

The court also could be front and center in the presidential campaign itself, especially with health concerns surrounding 86-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Its biggest decisions are likely to be handed down in late June, four months before the election.

If last year was a time for the court to maintain a collective low profile following Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s stormy confirmation, the new term marks a return to the spotlight.

“The court seemed to do everything it could to rise above the partisan rancor,” said David Cole, the national legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union. “This term, it’s going to be harder for the court.”

How far the court is willing to go in any case that is likely to divide the liberal and conservative justices probably will come down to Roberts. He is essentially the court’s new swing justice, a conservative who is closest to the court’s center. He also has spoken repeatedly against the perception that the court is a political branch of government, much like Congress and the White House.

Last term, on the same day in late June, Roberts joined the conservatives in ending federal court challenges to partisan electoral maps and sided with the liberals to block the administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The new term might pose the sternest test yet of Roberts’ stewardship of the court. Roberts also would preside over any Senate trial of Trump, if the House impeaches the president.

The justices return to the bench Monday with cases about whether states can abolish an insanity defense for criminal defendants and allow non-unanimous juries to convict defendants of some crimes.

The next day, they will take up two cases about whether federal civil rights law protects LGBT people from workplace discrimination. They are the first rights cases since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who provided the fifth vote for and wrote the court’s major gay rights decisions.

With Kavanaugh in Kennedy’s place and Trump’s other appointee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, also on the bench, the outcome is far from certain. The Trump administration also has reversed the Obama administration’s view that LGBT people are covered by the Title 7 provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sex.

“It would be huge for the LGBT community to have protection in the private sector from employment discrimination,” said Paul Smith, a veteran Supreme Court litigator who has argued past gay rights cases.

Legislation is pending in Congress that would remove any doubt about Title 7′s application in cases of sexual orientation and gender identity, but is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate.

In November, the justices will hear arguments over the Trump administration’s plan to end the Obama-era program that has protected roughly 700,000 young immigrants from deportation and provided them with permits to work in the United States legally.

Lower courts have so far blocked the administration from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

As in the LGBT rights cases, the court fight over DACA could be made irrelevant by congressional action authorizing the program. But Congress seems unlikely to do anything before the court rules.

The abortion case probably will be argued during the winter and is another test of whether the change in the court’s composition will result in a different outcome. The Louisiana law that forces abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals is virtually the same as a Texas law the court struck down in 2016, when Kennedy joined the liberal justices to form a majority.

Roberts dissented in 2016, but he voted with the liberals in February to block the Louisiana law, at least temporarily. It was a rare vote against an abortion restriction that could point up the tension between Roberts’ legal views on abortion and his institutional interests in upholding even prior decisions with which he disagrees.

Apart from its lineup of big cases, the court itself could be an issue in the unfolding presidential campaign. Some Democrats and liberals are talking about structural changes to increase the size of the court or limit the terms of future justices.

The 2016 campaign played out amid a Supreme Court vacancy following Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February. While Senate Republicans blocked any consideration of President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, Trump released a list of potential nominees and about one-quarter of Trump voters said the Supreme Court was the most important factor in their vote for him.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said Republicans would confirm a Trump nominee to the Supreme Court, even if a vacancy arose during 2020.

Election-year retirements are very unusual, and the two oldest justices, Ginsburg and 81-year-old Stephen Breyer, would not want to give Trump a third high court seat to fill. Both were appointed by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.

But Ginsburg has had two bouts with cancer in less than a year, including radiation treatment in August for a tumor on her pancreas. She has kept up a steady stream of public appearances to signal that she is still here. The events, she said, energize her. “When I am active, I am much better than when I am just lying about feeling sorry for myself,” she said at an appearance in New York.

She’s hardly alone on the lecture circuit. Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Gorsuch have been out trying to drum up sales for their new books. Even the newest justice, Kavanaugh, will raise his profile somewhat. He is scheduled to be the principal speaker at the Federalist Society’s November dinner in front of more than 2,000 people.

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Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Sanders home recovering from heart attack

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., departs Burlington International Airport after disembarking from a plane in South Burlington, Vt., on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. Sanders is back home in Vermont after being treated for a heart attack in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is back at his Vermont home after being treated for a heart attack in Las Vegas.

The plane carrying the 78-year-old senator arrived in Vermont just before 6 p.m. Saturday, one day after he was released from a hospital.

As he left the airport he told reporters “I’m feeling great, thank you.”

He was then driven home in a motorcade where he was greeted by family at the front door.

Sanders was attending a campaign event Tuesday when he experienced chest discomfort and was taken to a hospital.

Sanders’ campaign released a statement from his doctors that said two stents were inserted to open up a blocked artery in his heart.

The doctors said the rest of his stay was “uneventful with good expected progress.”

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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Trump calls on China to investigate Bidens


President Donald Trump speaks to the media. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Ensnarled in an impeachment investigation over his request for Ukraine to investigate a chief political rival, President Donald Trump Thursday called on another nation to probe former Vice President Joe Biden: China.

“China should start an investigation into the Bidens,” Trump said in remarks to reporters outside the White House. Trump said he hadn’t directly asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to investigate Biden and his son Hunter but said it’s “certainly something we could start thinking about.”

Trump and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani have also tried to raise suspicions about Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China, leaning on the writings of conservative author Peter Schweizer. But there is no evidence that the former vice president benefited financially from his son’s business relationships.

Trump’s requests for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to dig up dirt on Biden, as well as Giuliani’s conduct, are at the center of an intelligence community whistleblower complaint that sparked the House Democratic impeachment probe last week.

Trump’s comments came as he publicly acknowledged that his message to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and other officials was to investigate the 2020 Democratic presidential contender. Trump’s accusations of impropriety are unsupported by evidence.

“It’s a very simple answer,” Trump said of his call with Zelenskiy. “They should investigate the Bidens.”

Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.

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