Republicans Not Shifting Support Of Trump As Impeachment Inquiry Continues
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Neither today's testimony nor the House Speaker's decision to vote on formalizing impeachment proceedings appears to have shifted the position of many Republicans in Congress. They have largely stuck with the president or stayed silent. To explain how Republicans are thinking about this, we are joined by Brendan Buck. He worked for former Speakers of the House Paul Ryan and John Boehner, and he is now a partner at the communications firm Seven Letter.
BRENDAN BUCK: Thanks, Ari. Yeah.
SHAPIRO: Republicans have characterized many of the witnesses in the inquiry so far as disgruntled bureaucrats, State Department employees who, according to Republicans, always opposed President Trump's agenda. Do you think today's testimony from a decorated army officer is harder for Republicans to rebut?
BUCK: I do, actually. And, you know, it's been telling to me that the criticism from House Republicans has largely been centered on the background, as you said, or, really, the process.
BUCK: And I think that's because there's really nowhere to go on the substance, and I think what we learned today and what I think we're going to continue to learn throughout this - throughout the week, and certainly as these witnesses go public, is that what the president is alleged to have done is largely indefensible. And so I think what we heard today is only going to make Republicans stick to that current tact of questioning the process rather than the substance.
SHAPIRO: How much grumbling is there among Republicans that the White House has not taken a lead on saying, here's the argument we want you to make; now go out and make it?
BUCK: Well, I think the president would like them to defend the substance, and members thus far had not been able or willing to do that. So there's certainly a disconnect there. You know, the president has said the call is perfect. You don't hear very many members say the call is perfect. They may say that the call is not impeachable.
And I think in any normal political environment or with any normal president, the line would be, this was not appropriate, but it's not impeachable. The problem is this president doesn't take criticism very well. He doesn't seem to tolerate even the notion that what he did was wrong, and that's what leaves Republicans in an awkward position where they can't even acknowledge that calling for a foreign government to investigate your political rival is an inappropriate act. And a few of them have done that, but largely, people have stayed silent.
SHAPIRO: So what do you expect we're going to see when there are public hearings and the argument that this is a closed-door, secret process is no longer valid?
BUCK: Well, you know, it will be very hard for Republicans to maintain their posture that the process is rigged. They've been able to do so at this point because so much has been going on behind closed doors, and they've been able, I think somewhat effectively, to fill that space. I think it's important to appreciate that there is a sense of inevitability from people I talked to on the Hill still that impeachment is going to happen, and really, the only question at this point is removal. And so all of the efforts, whether it's from the president or Republicans on the Hill, are more focused on protecting the right flank and building up a firewall with Republicans to make sure that there are no cracks there.
SHAPIRO: I just want to clarify for listeners that when you say impeachment is going to happen and the question is removal, you're talking about a House vote. And the House is controlled by Democrats, so impeachment is going to happen because Democrats have the vote. Removal is up to the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.
BUCK: Right, and to remove someone, you need Republicans in the Senate to go along with it. Democrats don't need a single Republican vote to impeach the president, but you need a whole bunch of Republican votes to actually remove him. And the president and congressional Republicans, I think, have done a pretty effective job in convincing Republican voters that the process is flawed, that the fix is in and that Democrats were out to get the president from the get-go. And what that does is it creates a lot of pressure from the base from the grassroots, from the Republican voters - pressure that flows up to members. And they don't have any real safe space to go even if they wanted to cross the president on this.
SHAPIRO: Brendan Buck, thank you very much.
SHAPIRO: He worked for Speakers of the House Paul Ryan and John Boehner, and he's now at the communications firm Seven Letter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.