How House Republicans have stayed unified on impeachment

How House Republicans have stayed unified on impeachment
© Aaron Schwartz

House Republicans say they’ve had an easier time getting their members to toe the line against impeachment than on other key issues.

Not a single GOP lawmaker voted for the House resolution last month setting out the impeachment inquiry, which Republicans saw as a significant victory.

Since the House Intelligence Committee began its public hearings last week, Republican lawmakers who have been critical of Trump in the past, such as Reps. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikLawmakers introduce bipartisan bill to allow new parents to advance tax credits CNN's Bianna Golodryga: 'Rumblings' from Democrats on censuring Trump instead of impeachment Adam Schiff's star rises with impeachment hearings MORE (N.Y.) and Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdCNN's Bianna Golodryga: 'Rumblings' from Democrats on censuring Trump instead of impeachment Republicans preview impeachment defense strategy Davis: Congressman Will Hurd, If not now, when? MORE (Texas), have taken issue with the way Democrats have handled the process.

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While there have been some difficult moments for Republicans — most notably President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate US sending 20,000 troops to Europe for largest exercises since Cold War Barr criticizes FBI, says it's possible agents acted in 'bad faith' in Trump probe MORE’s decision to tweet his criticism of former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie YovanovitchMarie YovanovitchThe State Department: Nonpartisan service on behalf of America Nunes: 'Sickening' that Schiff obtained his phone records Inventing the 'Deep State' and draining the real one MORE during her testimony last week, the House GOP has generally been able to rally around the argument that Democrats have not proven Trump committed an impeachable offense. 

And after four days of testimony, it still seems unlikely that any House Republican would vote to back articles of impeachment.

Republican leadership, the House GOP whip team and the administration took early steps to tamp down potential defections and walk members through their arguments.

“We’ve been taking members up to Camp David, we’ve done several trips on that, that’s helped,” one administration official told The Hill. “And then obviously getting people in front of the president, that makes a difference when they get to hear from [him] directly. So, those are the big thing we try to do ahead of it.”

House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseLighthizer starts GOP charm offensive on Trump trade deal Pelosi announces support for new Trump NAFTA deal Controversy on phone records intensifies amid impeachment MORE (R-La.) held four member briefings on impeachment that a senior GOP aide said reached nearly the entire conference. Two came before Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate Tech legal shield included in USMCA despite late Pelosi push GOP senator warns quick vote on new NAFTA would be 'huge mistake' MORE (D-Calif.) announced an impeachment process resolution would come to the floor, and two followed the announcement.

The aide said that helped Republicans have a “united front.”

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The senior aide said leadership worked members before the Halloween vote to prevent defections, but said the early talks helped grease the skids.

“There were of course a few members we were talking to ahead of the vote, but we felt confident we had the factual and procedural arguments on our side and that our members felt the same,” the aide said.

At the meetings, members of the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight and Reform panels relayed as much information as they could from the closed-door hearings with witnesses.

“I spoke with all of them and they were good conversations,” Scalise said.

Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsControversy on phone records intensifies amid impeachment GOP lawmaker closes: Impeachment a 'scam,' Judiciary a 'rubber stamp' Tempers flare at tense Judiciary hearing on impeachment MORE (Ga.), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said the closed-door process and text of the resolution also worked against Democrats and helped the GOP unify.

Collins mentioned an exchange he had with House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) where Collins argued the Trump impeachment proceeding rules have not followed the precedent set by the Nixon and Clinton impeachments. Had Democrats included Republicans in the process and made it more “fair,” Collins said, some of his GOP colleagues may have voted for the resolution.

“So, the way they wrote it helped us out tremendously” in unifying, Collins told The Hill. 

Rep. Francis RooneyLaurence (Francis) Francis RooneyDemocrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Amash says he will vote in favor of articles of impeachment Billboards calling on House Republicans to 'do their job' follow members home for Thanksgiving MORE (R-Fla.), who is retiring, hasn’t ruled out voting for articles of impeachment.

But he voted against the earlier resolution, in part because of the rule differences.

“Remember the resolution is a procedural vote, it was about what kind of rules apply,” he told The Hill. “And, you know, the procedure, while more open than it started, is still not the way it was for Clinton or Nixon.”

He suggested his vote on articles of impeachment would hinge on whether Democrats show the president committed a crime, something Republicans say the majority has yet to do.

“You know, I just want to wait and find out,” Rooney said.

Republicans likely had an easier time unifying in part because so many of their moderates were swept out when the party lost its majority in the 2018 midterms. That has left behind a smaller, more conservative caucus.

Still, the moderates who are left, such as Stefanik and Reps. Chris StewartChristopher (Chris) Douglas StewartGOP lawmaker offering bill protecting LGBTQ rights with religious exemptions House GOP wants Senate Republicans to do more on impeachment How House Republicans have stayed unified on impeachment MORE (R-Utah) and Michael Turner (R-Ohio), have been at the forefront of Trump’s defense. That’s made it even easier for the party to unify against impeachment.

“You have to trust certain colleagues, Elise Stefanik, she’s not a Trump person,” one GOP member told The Hill. “These are not folks that are like Trump’s Kool Aid donors, these are folks that are legit.”

Republicans also see Democrats as going too far with impeachment, which they say would unseat an elected president less than a year from the next election.

Polls that show the nation is generally divided on impeachment have also bolstered centrists.

Republicans say that given the gravity of the consequences of impeachment, the allegations and case against the president need to be rock solid.

While a small number of members like Rooney have not completely ruled out the possibility of voting for articles of impeachment, leadership remains confident the party will stick together.

“I think it’d be easier to vote for [launching the] impeachment inquiry than to vote for impeachment,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyMcCarthy alleges timing of Pelosi's announcement on USMCA was politically motivated Democrat who opposed Trump, Clinton impeachment inquiries faces big test CNN Pelosi town hall finishes third in cable news ratings race, draws 1.6M MORE (R-Calif.).

Scott Wong contributed.