The most credible Republican case against impeaching President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump lawyers to Supreme Court: Jan. 6 committee 'will not be harmed by delay' Two House Democrats announce they won't seek reelection DiCaprio on climate change: 'Vote for people that are sane' MORE is that while he improperly tried to get Ukraine to smear a 2020 political opponent while holding up military assistance, he should be censured rather than driven from office.
That's missing entirely from this debate over impeachment, which the House takes up today. Instead, Republican defenders have resorted to misrepresentations, a few outright lies, diversions and a couple preposterous assertions.
There's little shame — even among those who should know better but are convinced that the public, certainly their core supporters, are with them.
So they repeat — and repeat — the canard that Democrats, ever since Trump took office, have planned impeachment.
There were a few early calls from fringe figures. Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTwo-thirds of Americans support banning lawmakers from trading stocks: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Voting rights week for Democrats (again) Watch: Lawmakers, activists, family members call for voting rights legislation on MLK day MORE (D-Calif.), with the support of most of her caucus, steadfastly resisted impeachment proceedings until the Ukrainian scandal surfaced. Judiciary Committee Republicans simultaneously claim Democrats eyed impeachment from day one and cite Pelosi's contention last spring that it would be a mistake.
More than substance, Republicans obsess over process, charging that Trump has been treated unfairly, not given the same legal and political privileges offered to former Presidents Nixon and Clinton during their impeachment inquiries.
California Republican Tom McClintockThomas (Tom) Milller McClintockCongress to take up marijuana reform this spring Vaccine mandate backlash sparks concerns of other health crises The right fire to fight fire — why limiting prescribed burning is short-sighted MORE called it “a completely illegitimate process,” and Georgia Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsJan. 6 panel releases contempt report on Trump DOJ official ahead of censure vote Lobbying world Sunday shows preview: Biden administration confronts inflation spike MORE (R) accused Democrats of rushing "before everybody sees through the process sham."
Actually the president was afforded the same protections: His counsel would see all the evidence, could respond to all charges, could attend hearings — even in executive session — and could question any witnesses called before the committee.
None of these were exercised for one reason: The Trump White House, unlike Nixon and Clinton, chose to totally stiff the entire proceedings.
Defenders insist there's no direct evidence linking Trump to any political shakedown of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky; Arizona Rep. Debbie Lesko (R), among others, flatly — and incorrectly — declared the president didn't ask the Ukrainians to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenMadame Tussauds unveils new Biden and Harris figures US raises concerns about Russian troop movements to Belarus Putin tests a model for invading Ukraine, outwitting Biden's diplomats MORE.
Someone please give the gentlelady the White House readout of the July 25 call to Zelensky.
After the Ukrainians said they were ready to buy more weapons for their perilous struggle against Russia, Trump immediately replied, "I would like you to do us a favor THOUGH (my caps)."
He soon asked Zelensky to launch an investigation into the (phony) allegation that Biden sought to prevent a probe into a Ukrainian energy company where his son, Hunter, served on the board. It would be "great," Trump declared, if Ukraine’s leaders would contact his Attorney General, William BarrBill BarrWilliam Barr's memoir set for release in early March The enemy within: Now every day is Jan. 6 Dems worry they'll be boxed out without changes to filibuster, voting rules MORE, on this matter.
The fallback, enunciated last weekend by Trump defenders like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R) is this wasn't about Biden but rather the president's deep concern about corruption anywhere.
Yet the administration's man on Ukraine, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon SondlandGordon SondlandThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Biden to mark Tuesday anniversary of George Floyd's death Trump impeachment witness suing Pompeo, State over legal fees America's practice of 'pay-to-play' ambassadors is no joke MORE, based on his conversations and dealings with the president, indicated in his testimony to Congress that Trump had no interest in corruption generally — only in Biden.
Well, so what, the Trumpites say, the Ukrainians eventually got the military assistance that was being held up. It was released only after the White House found out the infamous July 25 phone call would be revealed.
OK, but impeachment is a bad idea, they continue, when the next election is less than 10 months away, let the voters decide. In testimony to Congress, Harvard law professor Noah Feldman noted when the impeachment issue was debated at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, James Madison asserted that standing for reelection "was not a sufficient security" against presidential abuse of power.
House Republicans figure little of this matters in a deeply polarized America.
In 1974, there was resistance to impeachment until the Judiciary Committee laid out a compelling case in a high-level debate and discussion. Support for removing the president jumped 12 points during those late July deliberations, according to the Gallup poll. Weeks later, facing the inevitable, the president resigned.
The needle didn't move this time, although the Intelligence Committee made the case with witnesses who either were high-level career diplomats or Trump appointees. True, today's House Judiciary Committee — on either side — doesn't begin to measure up to its counterpart of the Nixon era.
Given the politics, that probably didn't matter.
The House will vote to impeach today — possibly tomorrow — and the Senate subsequently will vote to acquit. But as the history of this administration is written, and more is disclosed, some of those Republican arguments today will likely become very embarrassing.
Albert R. Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter-century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.