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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 RomneyRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Romney's TRUST Act is a Trojan Horse to cut seniors' benefits Republicans, please save your party MORE (R-Utah), Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships Senate votes to take up COVID-19 relief bill The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Increased security on Capitol Hill amid QAnon's March 4 date MORE (R-Alaska) and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMurkowski votes with Senate panel to advance Haaland nomination OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior reverses Trump policy that it says restricted science | Collins to back Haaland's Interior nomination | Republicans press Biden environment nominee on Obama-era policy Republicans, please save your party MORE (R-Maine), when she is cornered, Republicans have ducked, dodged, or denied, often expressing outrage at the process used by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels Top Republican: 'Outrageous' to extend National Guard deployment at Capitol Progressives won't oppose bill over limits on stimulus checks MORE (D-Calif.) and Chair of the Intelligence Committee Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHouse Democrats want to silence opposing views, not 'fake news' White House defends not sanctioning Saudi crown prince over Khashoggi What good are the intelligence committees? 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 ClintonHillary Clinton brings up 'Freedom Fries' to mock 'cancel culture' Edie Falco to play Hillary Clinton in Clinton impeachment series White House defends Biden's 'Neanderthal thinking' remark on masks 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 GardnerBiden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 MORE (R-Colo.), Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyGOP targets Manchin, Sinema, Kelly on Becerra House Freedom Caucus chair weighs Arizona Senate bid New rule shakes up Senate Armed Services subcommittees MORE (R-Ariz.), Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstRepublicans demand arms embargo on Iran after militia strikes in Iraq Republicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal Democrats cut deals to bolster support for relief bill MORE (R-Iowa) and Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisMcConnell backs Garland for attorney general GOP senators demand probe into Cuomo's handling of nursing home deaths CNN anchor confronts GOP chairman over senator's vote to convict Trump 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 TrumpTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot Intelligence community investigating links between lawmakers, Capitol rioters Michelle Obama slams 'partisan actions' to 'curtail access to ballot box' MORE to ask Volodymyr Zelensky, the newly-elected president of Ukraine, to investigate Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot FireEye finds evidence Chinese hackers exploited Microsoft email app flaw since January Biden officials to travel to border amid influx of young migrants MORE and Hunter Biden in exchange for the release of a military aid package passed by Congress, Rep. Mark AmodeiMark Eugene AmodeiCapitol Police head cites Biden speech threat for keeping security high Acting chief acknowledges police were unprepared for mob House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit 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 DuffyLobbying world CNN's Ana Navarro to host Biden roundtable on making 'Trump a one-term president' Bottom line 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.