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 RomneySenators demand more details from Trump on intel watchdog firing Zoom, grocery delivery, self-isolation: How lawmakers are surviving coronavirus Outgoing inspector general says Trump fired him for carrying out his 'legal obligations' MORE (R-Utah), Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHouse Republicans threaten pushback on Saudi Arabia amid oil market slump Zoom, grocery delivery, self-isolation: How lawmakers are surviving coronavirus Lawmakers announce legislation to fund government purchases of oil MORE (R-Alaska) and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenators demand more details from Trump on intel watchdog firing Senators push for changes to small business aid President tightens grip on federal watchdogs MORE (R-Maine), when she is cornered, Republicans have ducked, dodged, or denied, often expressing outrage at the process used by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrip that led to acting Navy secretary's resignation cost 3K: reports Overnight Health Care: Trump steps up attack on WHO | Fauci says deaths could be lower than first projected | House panel warns federal stockpile of medical supplies depleted | Mnuchin, Schumer in talks over relief deal House Republicans, key administration officials push for additional funding for coronavirus small business loans MORE (D-Calif.) and Chair of the Intelligence Committee Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHillicon Valley: Schiff presses intel chief on staff changes | Warren offers plan to secure elections | Twitter's Jack Dorsey to donate B to coronavirus fight | WhatsApp takes steps to counter virus misinformation Schiff calls on DNI Grenell to explain intelligence community changes READ: Schiff plans to investigate Trump firing intel watchdog 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 ClintonThe two infectious diseases spreading across America Former Clinton staffers invited to celebrate Sanders dropping out: report Sanders exit leaves deep disappointment on left 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 GardnerTrump: 100 ventilators 'immediately' being sent to Colorado GOP senator calls for investigation into 'mismanagement' of strategic ventilators Romney says he tested negative for coronavirus, will remain in quarantine MORE (R-Colo.), Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyGraham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill Trump considering suspending funding to WHO Campaigns face attack ad dilemma amid coronavirus crisis MORE (R-Ariz.), Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstThe Hill's Campaign Report: Sanders exits, clearing Biden's path to nomination As we have united when tested in the past, Americans are working together to fight coronavirus Democrats target Ernst in bid to expand Senate map MORE (R-Iowa) and Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisHouse Dems introduce anti-price gouging legislation North Carolina Senate race emerges as 2020 bellwether The Hill's Campaign Report: North Carolina emerges as key battleground for Senate control 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 TrumpSenators demand more details from Trump on intel watchdog firing Overnight Health Care: Trump steps up attack on WHO | Fauci says deaths could be lower than first projected | House panel warns federal stockpile of medical supplies depleted | Mnuchin, Schumer in talks over relief deal Trump says he'll look into small business loan program restricting casinos MORE to ask Volodymyr Zelensky, the newly-elected president of Ukraine, to investigate Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Campaign Report: Sanders exits, clearing Biden's path to nomination Former Clinton staffers invited to celebrate Sanders dropping out: report Sanders exit leaves deep disappointment on left MORE and Hunter Biden in exchange for the release of a military aid package passed by Congress, Rep. Mark AmodeiMark Eugene AmodeiMnuchin details IRS challenges with cash-only marijuana businesses On The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Billboards calling on House Republicans to 'do their job' follow members home for Thanksgiving 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 DuffyRepublican lobbying firms riding high despite uncertainty of 2020 race Bottom Line Ex-Rep. Frelinghuysen joins law and lobby firm 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.