Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: Will Republicans ever stand up to Trump?

Nov 26, 2019

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Hi, everybody, and welcome to our pre-Thanksgiving chat. I hope you have a restful and peaceful holiday. Rest and/or peace would be a nice change, wouldn't it? We get a few days' break from impeachment, and let's all enjoy the respite, because the process will start up again as soon as everyone gets back after the holiday. House Intelligence will write a report and send it over to House Judiciary, which will (I expect) draw up one or more articles of impeachment. That's all pending any surprises, of course, and by now we should all expect constant surprises. Public support for impeachment was not budged either way by the public hearings, it appears -- which means there remains a majority of Americans in favor of impeachment and removal of President Trump (despite his desperate-sounding claims to the contrary). Meanwhile, Mike Bloomberg has entered the Democratic presidential race, for what that's worth. Let's chew it all over, and then let's forget about it all for a few days and enjoy family and friends.

And if you missed it, here's my latest column. Let's get started.

Because it is clear Republicans will not convict Trump in a Senate trial, what can we, common American citizens, do to stop the flagrant dismantling of our democracy and Trump's/Republicans' kowtowing to Putin? I am terrified.

If the Senate does not remove President Trump from office, voters will have to do the job in November. It's that simple. 

Is there any rational reason that the Republicans don't throw their hands up in the air and just let Trump be found guilty since he is guilty? Wouldn't they be better off if Pence finished his term of office? Why are they beating their heads on this particular wall?

Because President Trump has the loyalty of the Republican base and Vice President Pence does not. I have a feeling Trump's hold will weaken much faster than it might appear, once he's out of office. But for now, Republicans in Congress are petrified of him. 

Can the Senate members vote by 'secret ballot' to give the GOP an out . . . saving face?

I believe they could, but they won't. 

Have long enjoyed your commentary on a variety of issues. It seems patently obvious that GOP Senate has no intention of conducting a serious deliberative process vis a vis impeachment. Given this, there seems no reason for House to forward the case, particularly without full access to supporting documents and vital witnesses. Would it not be better to forestall the grandstanding and eventual boasting by opting for censure and a thorough report including a comprehensive inventory of documents and witnesses prevented from review? Very interested to hear your thoughts.

But the Senate isn't going to vote to censure the president, either. And the House cannot control what the Senate does or does not do. So the question for the House is whether Trump deserves the ultimate sanction of impeachment or the milder sanction of censure. And my question is this: If this president doesn't deserve impeachment, what president ever would?

If the allegations are true that Devin Nunes was conspiring with former Ukrainian officials could this spell the end of his political career?

From your lips to God's ear.

My appreciation Mr. Robinson for your extraordinary columns - particularly these past 3-4 years. They have helped keep me sane! My question - and perhaps a subject you could expound upon in a column - is: How did president Trump get Senator Graham to do that which Ukraine's President Zelensky wouldn't? Did he get Lindsay to start an investigation into a bogus, conspiracy theory by withholding golfing opportunities? If I was a cartoonist I'd create a picture of Trump holding a puppet string device saying "Dance Lindsay! That is if you want to ever go golfing again!" Sen. Graham's action - and Pres. Zelensky's inaction shows just where corruption is breeding ... in our own back yard.

I thought I knew Lindsey Graham, but obviously I didn't. I have no idea what's happened to him, but I have no rational hope that the old Lindsey Graham will reappear anytime soon.

How can Lindsey Graham request State Department documents about a manufactured "scandal" from several years ago as that same State Department is refusing to release unclassified documents from mere weeks ago to a legitimate Impeachment Inquiry? I know the republicans are hypocrites, but this seems like a new low even for them.

Just keep reminding yourself that there is no bottom.

Your column asked about why people in the administration, like Spencer and Hill, didn't speak up earlier, and why people like Kelly and Mattis don't speak up now. My question is, what about the elder statesmen Republicans who have nothing to lose. I can't believe Colin Powell is happy with Trump overriding military discipline. What about Condi Rice? What about George Bush--his family has certainly been no fans of Trump. Why can't he, from his special position, say "Republicans, you have to stop covering for this horrible man"? Surely that would start to erode the support that's propping Trump up.

Those are good questions that should be put to the former officials you name.

I missed your chat last week. But, I did want to bring up how disappointed I am that none of my co-workers have any interest in or knowledge of the impeachment hearings. I work at an animal hospital and most of my colleagues, minus the doctors, are 19-29 (I'm 38). The hearings were on TV in the break room and I mentioned Ukraine and a few other relevant players only to be met with blank stares. I suppose when I was 21 I didn't care as much about politics as I do now and the workplace isn't somewhere to bring up politics. Yet, the disinterest was palpable. It's extremely disappointing and disheartening to realize that my experience is probably the norm. How many Americans actually paid attention to these hearings? I feel defeated and hopeless because indisputable facts regarding Trump's immorality were revealed and few seem to be around to notice.

First of all, don't feel defeated or hopeless. I do understand your frustration. I was glued to the hearings, but then again I live and breathe this stuff. I was actually encouraged, though, when I had a conversation yesterday with an acquaintance who watches a lot of Fox News, didn't watch a lot of the hearings, and still was quite openminded about the question of impeaching Trump. I know to be careful about generalizing based on a focus group of one, but I was surprised. I wondered if Trump's bedrock support might be less solid than he thinks.

Isn’t it past time for media to question Mattis, Kelly, Bolton, Pompeo, Perry, Tillerson etc. with the Watergate type questions...what did you know and when did you know it? About Russia. About Ukraine. About Syria? About Saudi? Etc.

The problem is that we don't have subpoena power to compel them to appear for questioning, much less to compel them to answer truthfully. Sometimes I wish we did...

Other than on Fox News, of course? Rudy is key to this entire sordid mess and needs to testify before the impeachment vote. Will the committee try to get him in before then? I am, however, willing to wait if the SDNY indicts Rudy.

I think there's zero chance that Giuliani will testify before the impeachment vote, and I think there's almost zero chance that he will appear before Congress at all. Whether he appears before a judge in the Southern District of New York is another story.

Do you think these will ever be made public? The "public's right to know" seems like such a quaint concept at this point, I am starting to think we'll never see them.

I'm pretty sure we won't get to see the president's taxes before the House holds an impeachment vote or before the Senate puts him on trial. But I think we might well see them before the election. Nothing's impossible, but it would be awfully hard for the Supreme Court to finally rule that Congress and prosecutors have no right to see those taxes.

Just a note to thank you for taking questions all the time. I don't always send one in but I do read the transcripts. How about the 2020 question? Won't hold you to it...who gets the nomination? Wouldn't this be an interesting time for an actual brokered convention?!

You ask a question that I simply can't answer, because I just don't know. Things may look different in a couple of months, as Iowa prepares to vote, but right now it looks like the first four primaries could be a split decision -- split three or even four ways. Then we would look to Super Tuesday for a decision, but what if it isn't decisive? This contest for the nomination could go deep into the spring, I believe.

I know there is still time, but what I was afraid was going to happen during the impeachment inquiry is happening: both sides are solidifying their support for/against. I predict a Senate show trail followed by Trump declaring “ONCE AGAIN TOTAL VINDICATION” at one of his dreadful, insane rallies. However, I’m still glad it happened. To hear reasoned, professional experts testify – esp. Fiona Hill – was very refreshing. To use a line from The Shawshank Redemption, “It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage…”

Keep one thing in mind: We have no idea what impact impeachment will have on the prospects of a president seeking reelection, because such a thing has never happened. Somehow, "Impeached but Acquitted!" doesn't sound like the best of all possible campaign slogans to me. 

Do you think that those who say Trump supporters are a cult actually help Trump by insulting those supporters and causing them to channel their anger into votes for him?

If people want to vote for Trump in order to "own the libs" or whatever, I can't stop them. But I'm going to tell the truth as I see it, and I think others should as well. That doesn't mean gratuitously heaping abuse on Trump supporters or anyone else, but it does mean being honest and letting chips fall where they may.

Who do you think might have enough sway with Trump to convince him to resign? Dick and Liz Cheney? Rudy? Lindsey? Hannity and the Murdochs? Others?

None of the above. I believe Trump might resign if he believed he was in serious danger of being removed. I believe he detests the idea of being impeached, even if he is subsequently acquitted, but I'm confident he's willing to live with that.

A procedural question for you... are Dems allowed to call witnesses in the Senate trial, or are they at the mercy of Republican control, as Republicans had to deal with in the house?

I think there will be a lot of political pressure on Mitch McConnell to skew the proceedings in the GOP's favor. But it's still unclear just how this will work -- including how big a role Chief Justice Roberts will play. And McConnell seems to be determined that the trial look like an actual trial, at least superficially, and not a foregone conclusion.

'Nothing's impossible, but it would be awfully hard for the Supreme Court to finally rule that Congress and prosecutors have no right to see those taxes.' Are you serious? Didn't you just say there is no bottom?

I did say that, yes. And I appreciate the reality check. I do believe, however, that Chief Justice Roberts takes his job seriously and is determined for the Supreme Court not to appear to be just an arm of the Republican Party. So I am not without hope.

Does the discussion at your Thanksgiving table include politics?

Nope.

IF Trump is impeached and IF the Republican Senate does not vote 2/3 to Convict might some of the Senators in Swing states have problems trying to explain why they let Trump off? I'm sure they will try some version of "Not enough to Remove", but I can think of Democrats' Ads going "He doesn't work for us, he works for Trump!"

The Senate trial will indeed put serious political pressure on members like Cory Gardner, Susan Collins and at least a few others. That's one reason why McConnell seems to believe it needs to look like a real trial that gave serious consideration to the charges.

Do you think Bloomberg News should reverse its decision to not investigate Bloomberg or other Democrats....while investigating the Republican? Some journalists are saying that this is not journalism. Your thoughts?

I think former mayor Bloomberg's decision to run has put all of the great journalists at Bloomberg News in an impossible position. But no, I don't see how anyone can justify investigating one party and not the other. 

While I believe Trump should be impeached and removed from office, I am concerned that he will turn the tables on the Democrats, claim sham impeachment and vindication, and shave off enough votes in the upper Midwest, Nevada, and Arizona to win reelection while losing the popular vote by 6 million.

But why would Trump be in a better position after impeachment and non-removal than he's in now? I don't get why he would have a better chance of the vote-shaving you describe if he's impeached. He's going to go after those voters anyway, and Democrats are going to have to go after them as well.

Given all of RBG's recurring health problems, shouldn't the Dems make the Supreme Court a central theme to getting out the vote? Worked for the Trumpers.

Yes.

Any chance Congress arrests those subpoenaed and are refusing to appear now that there has been a judges ruling that one must testify?

Who's going to carry out the arrests? The sergeant-at-arms? Congress has the power to compel testimony but doesn't really have the power to enforce its subpoenas. A definitive ruling from the courts would be sufficient, but that takes time.

If a trial is held, do you support calling Obama as a witness regarding how he dealt with Ukraine, including producing transcripts of all conversations he had about Ukraine and with Ukrainian officials?

Of course not. It's Trump who will be on trial, not Obama. Even if President Obama had shot a Ukrainian on Fifth Avenue, that would have nothing to do with whether Trump committed bribery. Which I believe he did.

 

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! That's all for today. I'll see you on the other side of the holiday!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2009, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns on the 2008 presidential campaign that focus on the election of the first African-American president. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America" (2010), "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson lives with his wife and two sons in Arlington.
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