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 StefanikWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way The Hill's Morning Report — Trump basks in acquittal; Dems eye recanvass in Iowa Trump holds White House 'celebration' for impeachment acquittal MORE (N.Y.) and Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdGun control group plans to spend million in Texas in 2020 Trump to attend California fundraiser with Oracle chairman The Hill's Morning Report - Nearing witness vote, GOP rushes to acquit Trump 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 TrumpSchiff blasts Trump for making 'false claims' about Russia intel: 'You've betrayed America. Again.' Poll: Sanders leads 2020 Democratic field with 28 percent, followed by Warren and Biden More than 6 in 10 expect Trump to be reelected: poll MORE’s decision to tweet his criticism of former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie YovanovitchMarie YovanovitchFormer US ambassador Yovanovitch lands a book deal: report The Hill's review of John Solomon's columns on Ukraine Democrats worried about Trump's growing strength 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 ScaliseScalise after Democrat asks for examples of Sanders supporters 'being bad': 'I can think of an example' Bottom line Pelosi's staff huddles with aides in both parties on 'surprise' medical billing 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 PelosiTrump's Intel moves spark Democratic fury Buttigieg sounds alarm after Sanders wins Nevada Russian interference reports rock Capitol Hill 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 CollinsSunday shows preview: 2020 candidates look to South Carolina Overnight Defense: Seven day 'reduction in violence' starts in Afghanistan | US, Taliban plan to sign peace deal Feb. 29 | Trump says top intel job has four candidates Trump says he is considering four candidates for intelligence chief 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 RooneyOvernight Energy: Trump issues rule replacing Obama-era waterway protections | Pelosi slams new rule as 'an outrageous assault' | Trump water policy exposes sharp divides 2 Democrats say they voted against war powers resolution 'because it merely restated existing law' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi plans to send impeachment articles next week 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 StewartTrump's Intel moves spark Democratic fury House Republicans boycott public Intelligence panel hearing Trump considering Utah GOP lawmaker for top intelligence post: report  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.

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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 McCarthyTrump's Intel moves spark Democratic fury Overnight Energy: EPA moves to limit financial pressure on 'forever chemical' manufacturers | California sues Trump over water order| Buttigieg expands on climate plan Barr to attend Senate GOP lunch on Tuesday MORE (R-Calif.).

Scott Wong contributed.