Impeachment looms large in White House midterm plans
President Trump wants to step up efforts to protect Republican control of the House in hopes of avoiding an impeachment debate and congressional investigations if Democrats seize the chamber, according to GOP sources.
“It is super important to the White House, and really the whole White House is very focused on it,” said a source familiar with strategy talks about protecting the House majority.
“The president is expected to dial up efforts in this regard during and after the August recess,” the source added.
While Democratic leaders in the House are playing any talk of impeachment very carefully, the idea of impeaching Trump has strong support within the party’s liberal base.
Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), who raised $6.7 million in the first quarter for a Senate bid against incumbent Ted Cruz (R), goosed his fundraising last month by pledging to vote for impeachment. And Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said over the weekend that 70 percent of Democrats want to impeach the president.
Those comments have grabbed Trump’s attention and led him to see protecting the House as vitally important.
Trump told a rally of supporters in Michigan over the weekend that the looming threat of impeachment is a driving reason to protect the House.
“We have to keep the House because if we listen to Maxine Waters, she’s going around saying ‘We will impeach him,’ ” Trump said Saturday.
Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to win back the House majority, a number that seems within range. The Cook Political Report categorizes eight GOP held seats as likely or leaning toward Democrats, and 22 more as toss-ups.
Another party strategist said the order from the president to the Republican National Committee (RNC) has been clear: Protect the House at all costs.
“It’s clear the message has been, ‘We don’t want to want to have to fool with impeachment proceedings with the final two years of his first term, you better do something,’” the strategist said, requesting anonymity to discuss party deliberations.
The RNC surprised Senate Republicans recently when it announced that protecting the House would be it’s top priority, putting less emphasis on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) goal of protecting and expanding the Senate GOP majority.
“Our No. 1 priority is keeping the House. We have to win the House,” RNC political director Juston Johnson told The Associated Press.
It’s safe to say some Republicans will question a strategy that puts too much a priority on the House and not enough of one on the Senate.
Republicans have a narrow 51-49 edge in the Senate, but face a playing field that has Democrats defending 26 seats compared to just eight for Republicans. Many of the Democratic seats are also in states that Trump won by double-digits in 2016, which gives the Senate GOP real hope of increasing its majority even if the House majority flips.
McConnell warned Trump at a private dinner last month that he should focus more on the battle for control of the Senate, according to The New York Times. McConnell argued that the future of the Senate GOP majority depended largely on Trump.
At the same dinner, Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director, predicted that the House GOP majority is essentially doomed, according to the Times.
Other GOP strategists are urging Trump to spend his political capital where it can have the most impact — in states with vulnerable Senate Democratic incumbents.
They see control of the House as a losing battle but acknowledge the president doesn’t agree with that analysis.
“There are a lot of operatives who are concerned that we’re chasing the impossible in terms of defending the House. Instead of ensuring you lock down one you may lose both,” said one GOP official who thinks the president’s time and fundraising ability is better used on Senate races.
This strategist argued that historical statistics combined with the wave of House Republican retirements makes keeping control of the lower chamber all but impossible.
Forty-seven House Republicans, including Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), have announced their retirements since Trump came into office. While some of them have been replaced by GOP successors in special elections, many of the seats will be vulnerable to Democratic takeover in November.
Since 1966, when the president’s approval rating drops below 50 percent, his party hast lost two dozen or more seats in six out of the past seven midterm elections, according to the Cook Political Report. A Gallup weekly poll released Monday found Trump’s approval rating rising to its highest level in 11 months, but it still stood at an anemic 42 percent.
GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said the costs will be high for Trump if House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) or another liberal Democrat becomes the next Speaker.
As a result, it’s understandable that Trump would want to fight hard to keep the House majority.
“They know they have to counteract that because if they lose the House the agenda stalls for two years and they’ll probably be facing impeachment charges every other week from how he looks to how he sneezes,” he added. “That is the White House’s No. 1 fear.”
Some Republicans think Trump could rally the party’s base by raising the specter of impeachment.
Doug Heye, a GOP strategist, said sounding the alarm on impeachment will likely be central to the White House’s strategy in some House races this fall — but not all of them.
“That will be part of it, but emphasizing how Pelosi and Co. would overturn his policies might resonate more than a hypothetical that Democratic leadership is trying to tamp down,” said Heye, a former RNC spokesman.
“How [Democrats] would raise taxes, push government control of health care and more regulation may be a better argument to voters who might not be massive Trump fans but like his policies,” he said.
Scott Wong contributed.