Trump's defenders are running out of options

Every American should be embarrassed, depressed, and/or disgusted by the responses of Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to a simple question: Is it appropriate for President Donald Trump to ask a foreign government to investigate a political rival?

With the exception of Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyHere are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump Statesmen seek bipartisan solutions to big challenges Georgia ready for unpredictable Senate race MORE (R-Utah), Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHere are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump Senate confirms eight Trump court picks in three days The Hill's Morning Report - Dem impeachment report highlights phone records MORE (R-Alaska) and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsHere are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump Giffords, Demand Justice to pressure GOP senators to reject Trump judicial pick Senate confirms eight Trump court picks in three days MORE (R-Maine), when she is cornered, Republicans have ducked, dodged, or denied, often expressing outrage at the process used by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing White House, Democrats strike tentative deal to create Space Force in exchange for federal parental leave benefits: report Trump: Fox News 'panders' to Democrats by having on liberal guests MORE (D-Calif.) and Chair of the Intelligence Committee Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Top Republican: Democrats' weekend document dump shows impeachment inquiry is a 'farce' Nunes: 'Sickening' that Schiff obtained his phone records MORE (D-Calif.). Going where people usually go when they conclude the facts do not support their side, they have also deployed the politics of distraction and “whatabout” assaults on Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWill the Horowitz report split the baby? Gabbard commemorates John Lennon's passing by singing 'Imagine' Bannon: Clinton waiting to enter 2020 race and 'save the Democratic Party from Michael Bloomberg' MORE and “Never Trump” members of the “Deep State.” Evasive non-answer answers to reporters’ questions about substance by people such as Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerHere are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump GOP senators unveil bill to expand 'opportunity zone' reporting requirements Overnight Health Care: House to vote next week on drug prices bill | Conway says Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping | US spent trillion on hospitals in 2018 MORE (R-Colo.), Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyHere are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump Overnight Health Care: House to vote next week on drug prices bill | Conway says Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping | US spent trillion on hospitals in 2018 Planned Parenthood targets GOP senators in seven-figure ad campaign MORE (R-Ariz.), Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstGOP senators unveil bill to expand 'opportunity zone' reporting requirements Giffords, Demand Justice to pressure GOP senators to reject Trump judicial pick Democratic challenger to Joni Ernst releases ad depicting her as firing gun at him MORE (R-Iowa) and Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats worry about diversity on next debate stage North Carolina congressman says he won't seek reelection after redistricting Overnight Health Care: House to vote next week on drug prices bill | Conway says Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping | US spent trillion on hospitals in 2018 MORE (R-N.C.) are painful to watch or read. Equally painful was the stunt played by 30 belligerent members of the House, who marched into a committee hearing in violation of rules promulgated in 2015 by a Republican majority.

And it’s getting worse. Here are two recent, and especially egregious examples:

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Pressed by CNN reporter Manu Raju about whether it was appropriate for President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades MORE to ask Volodymyr Zelensky, the newly-elected president of Ukraine, to investigate Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden: Buttigieg 'doesn't have significant black support even in his own city' Biden: 'I'd add' Warren to my list of potential VP picks How can top Democrats run the economy with no business skill? MORE and Hunter Biden in exchange for the release of a military aid package passed by Congress, Rep. Mark AmodeiMark Eugene AmodeiBillboards calling on House Republicans to 'do their job' follow members home for Thanksgiving Trump's defenders are running out of options Avoiding the snake in the grass: Let's not allow impeachment to divide us MORE (R-Nev.), who had expressed support for an impeachment inquiry — and then walked it back — wondered why the Democrats had no plans to call the whistleblower to testify. “You didn’t answer my question…,” Raju responded. Amodei shot back: “I disagree with your conclusion. It’s a conclusion, not a question.” Raju tried again: “Is it okay for the president to ask a foreign country to investigate the Bidens?” Amodei repeated his non sequitur: “That’s not a question,” adding, “If you want to interview yourself, go ahead.”

On Monday, with the release of the opening statement of Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on Trump’s National Security Council, to the House Intelligence Committee, in which he declared that he “did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s bi-partisan support of Ukraine,” former Congressman Sean DuffySean DuffyJuan Williams: Trump has nothing left but smears On The Money: Trump seeks to shift spotlight from impeachment to economy | Appropriators agree to Dec. 20 funding deadline | New study says tariffs threaten 1.5M jobs Ex-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR MORE (R-Wis.) joined Fox & Friends Trumpers in trashing the foreign service officer (and lieutenant colonel in the Army), who fled Ukraine with his father and twin brother when he was 3 years old, served several overseas tours as a U.S. infantry officer, and received a Purple Heart after he was wounded in Iraq: “It seems very clear that he is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense,” Duffy proclaimed. “I don’t know that he’s concerned about American policy… We all have an affinity to our homeland where we came from… He has an affinity for the Ukraine.”

Alas, it may not be true that Republicans have nowhere to go but up.

Following the House vote to lay out impeachment procedures on Thursday, Republican members of Congress — to say nothing of American voters — may find process arguments less compelling. In any event, President Trump has suggested they “go into the details of the case rather than process. Process is good, but I think you ought to look at the case.”

If they do, one wonders, will they acknowledge, at least tacitly, that the evidence of a quid pro quo is overwhelming?

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If past is prologue, Republicans may well double-down on the lousy hand their president has dealt them.

That said, Republican members of Congress whose re-election is in doubt, I suspect, will join the growing number of their colleagues who have announced their retirement and choose the only plausible strategy left to them.

What the president did was wrong, they will say, probably softly and off-camera, and then declare that the offense is not impeachable. In any event, they will add, the voters should decide whether Donald Trump should have a second term.

The rest will keep their fingers crossed and hope against hope that more shoes — or even heavier objects — don’t drop before November.

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of Rude Republic:  Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.