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Democrats hoped they'd win over Republicans on impeachment. But it's not looking that way so far

Los Angeles Times logo Los Angeles Times 10/31/2019 By Jennifer Haberkorn, Los Angeles Times

Slideshow by photo services

WASHINGTON — As the House prepares to hold its first vote related to the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, senior House Democrats appear to have all but given up on getting much Republican support for their effort, and are resigned to the reality that the process will probably continue along largely partisan lines.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had previously argued that trying to remove the president from office would only succeed with bipartisan support. Backing from lawmakers in both parties will mean the difference between an impeachment effort seen as a credible, constitutional check on presidential power, and one dismissed as a political, vindictive exercise.

But in their first test — Thursday’s procedural vote on establishing impeachment rules — Democrats are unlikely to receive more than a few, if any, GOP votes.

Only a handful of Republicans have publicly signaled openness to the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, including Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, Reps. Francis Rooney of Florida and Will Hurd of Texas, and Republican-turned-independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who have each expressed alarm about Trump’s attempts to pressure the Ukrainian government to open investigations into baseless allegations against his political enemies, even as he withheld security aid from the country.

No Republican so far has announced support for actually impeaching Trump, a vote that is still weeks away.

Democrats say hopes are fading that Republicans will join the effort. Much will depend on a handful of moderate Republicans, whose views and statements will be closely watched. But Democrats insist there is little they can do to sway votes or opinions beyond collecting the evidence.

“We hope that everyone will make decisions that put country over party, and will make judgments based on the evidence and the law,” said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., a member of House Democratic leadership. “To the extent colleagues don’t do that, I mean all we can do is continue to hope that they will, but I don’t think that will change the course of action by the House.”

Adam Schiff, Nancy Pelosi are posing for a picture: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) hold a press conference on Oct. 2, 2019 on the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. © Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times/TNS House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) hold a press conference on Oct. 2, 2019 on the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Democratic leaders point to some unelected Republicans who have voiced support for the inquiry, including a group of former national security officials and columnists such as George Will.

Elected Republicans, they say, are another story. “What happens here in the Capitol as it relates to the Republican caucus is an entirely different thing,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “What we’re seeing across the country is a growing bipartisan sense there was serious wrongdoing engaged in by the president and an abuse of power that is at a minimum worthy of an impeachment investigation.”

Several Democrats said there are no phone calls, texts or cross-aisle chats to feel out Republicans on potentially supporting impeachment — for now.

Rooney, the Republican furthest out front on potentially supporting impeachment, said he hasn’t even been approached by Pelosi, even though he and his wife know Pelosi and her husband through their joint support of Georgetown University. He doesn’t expect Pelosi, whom he called a “very good friend,” to try to win his vote — and it seems unlikely that would matter, he said.

“I’m just going to do whatever I think is right,” said Rooney, who announced recently he would not seek reelection. “I don’t really pay much attention to that stuff,” he said of the political pressure he is all but certain to face from Republicans or Democrats.

The inquiry quickened pace Wednesday as the committees heard from two career State Department officials. They also called former national security adviser John Bolton to testify on Nov. 7, but it is unclear whether he will appear. Bolton, who would be the most senior former administration official to testify, had encouraged other administration officials to voice their concerns about Trump’s action, another witness told the committees earlier this month.

Even if some Republicans were considering supporting impeachment, there may be little reason to shine a spotlight on themselves now. Many remain fearful that Trump and other conservative groups might attack them for supporting the inquiry.

Trump has sent several disparaging tweets at Romney’s expense when the Utah senator said he had concerns about Trump’s actions. Republican lawmakers privately acknowledge the power of the president’s online bully pulpit, especially if there are only a few GOP lawmakers breaking ranks.

Trump’s House Republican supporters are eager to apply pressure tactics — to both Republicans and Democrats.

Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, said he is demanding that each member’s name be called when casting Thursday’s vote on the impeachment inquiry. It would force members to stand on the House floor and verbally cast their vote, live on C-SPAN, instead of submitting it through a small card as most votes are tabulated. Pelosi is unlikely to agree.

For their part, Republican leaders said they were confident they’d be able to keep their members in line on Thursday’s vote. They, too, realize what’s at stake if one of their members crosses the aisle to join Democrats during the process expected to come to a head in December.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if not only not a single Republican voted for it, but there will probably be some Democrats who vote against it as well,” said GOP whip Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., “which will call into question the legitimacy of what Pelosi and (House Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Adam B.) Schiff are doing.”

Democrats say Thursday’s vote will not serve as the ceiling for potential bipartisan support. They expect that once the story of Trump’s actions is told in a coherent way — so far, only pieces of witness testimony have become public — polls that are already trending slightly in Democrats’ favor will continue to move, according to a senior leadership aide. That story will begin to unfold next month as Democrats release a majority report outlining their case and public testimony is expected to begin.

Republicans say they feel no pressure from voters or anyone else to join the impeachment effort and are happy to lob insults at the Democrats’ process, which they argue is flawed because much of it so far has taken place in closed-door depositions.

Whatever happens in the House vote on articles for impeachment will have repercussions for the GOP-controlled Senate, which would have to determine whether to remove Trump from office.

“I think it’s really pretty hard to get it back on the rails,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the GOP whip, of the Democrats’ process so far. “The way that it’s been handled in the House has really tainted it. I think, in the minds of the American people too, it very much looks like a rigged process and I think that’s going to color this going forward.”

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