Which Republicans Will Likely Support Trump in the Impeachment Hearings and Why
A show of force is expected among Congressional Republicans defending President Donald Trump during public impeachment hearings beginning Wednesday, despite strong claims by Democrats that Trump abused his power and foreign policy for political and personal interest.
But for Trump’s GOP allies, it’s a serious matter, and the question is: Who will spill their blood on Capitol Hill for the president?
“What’s happening in the House is basically un-American,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), once a vocal critic of Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign but now one of the president’s closest allies, told Fox News Tuesday night.
While Graham and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kent.) will likely take center stage as the loudest voices supporting the president, some political experts wonder who else will stick their neck out for Trump—and possibly put their political careers on the line.
“I think it’s going to be tough for them regardless,” said William Howell, a political science and public policy professor at the University of Chicago, specializing in American politics. Powell said that this is probably “not a good time to be a Republican,” as many of them will have to side with the president or “face an electoral backlash” from their constituents, especially those who support Trump.
The battle lines are being drawn. House Republicans are shaping their defense strategy against Democrat claims, which include an 18-page memo from three top Republicans serving on panels outlining “key points of evidence” from previous closed-door impeachment inquiries on how to best defend the president.
The memo said that Democrats failed to present any quid pro quo evidence in Trump’s controversial phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which the president withheld military aid and asked to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on a board for a Ukrainian gas company.
However, Republicans supporting Trump may take stances ranging from: the president’s actions are not worthy of impeachment to “so what?” about the alleged misconduct. They are also likely to reiterate the memo’s talking points, including both Trump and Zelensky saying there was no pressure during the call, and that the Ukrainian government was unaware of a hold on security assistance at the time of the call.
While George Kent, a top State Department official, and Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, are expected to testify side-by-side Wednesday, and former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch on Friday, before the House Intelligence Committee—and really all of America for that matter, it’s all about some Republicans discrediting the hearing process, said James Lance Taylor, a political science professor and former politics department chair at the University of San Francisco.
“That is what is in play here, the partisanship is delegitimizing the process, the president has the right to behave badly, but Congress has the obligation to enforce the oversight responsibly,” Taylor said.
Trump will have backers including Congressman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a staunch Trump supporter who is the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, and a former chair of the committee. Nunes has submitted a list of potential witnesses, including Hunter Biden, that could support a theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Nunes also wants the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint ignited the impeach inquiry to testify publicly, reiterating Trump’s message that he wants to see his accuser.
There’s also Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan, a high-ranking Republican on the House Oversight Committee, and a firebrand who moved to the Intelligence Committee this month to help lead the defense of Trump during the public hearings.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has told reporters that Jordan’s presence would bring more transparency and accountability in what McCarthy calls a “sham process.”
Jordan will most likely be “the gadfly and the pot-stirrer during the hearings,” said James Lance Taylor, a political science professor and former politics department chair at the University of San Francisco.
During the initial inquiry hearings, Jordan frequently used his opening statements to condemn the Democrats calling it an “unfair process.” Expect to see more of the same, Taylor said.
There’s also Minority Whip Steve Scalese, the Republican congressman from Louisiana who has repeatedly argued that Democrats want to remove a sitting president as a way to undo Trump’s surprise election win in 2016.
“They’ve been hoping for 2 1/2 years. It started with the Mueller investigation—no crime there. So, they moved on to try to look for something else. They thought the phone call was going to yield something. And then the president released the transcript and you can see in the transcript there is no quid pro quo,” Scalese told Fox News last week. “In fact, again, Zelensky, who was the other person on that call, said it was a perfectly fine call. And in fact, he appreciated the call from President Trump and he got the money that he was seeking and he got the Javelin missiles that he was seeking as well.”
And then there’s outgoing Texas Congressman Will Hurd, a moderate Republican who may be a wildcard during the public hearings. Is Hurd, who has called for Hunter Biden to testify during the impeachment inquiry, a Trump ally, or will he take a more independent stance?
Also, what about New York Congressman Peter King who said he will vote against impeaching Trump in his surprise retirement announcement on Monday?
“The people retiring are going to be a bit circumspect, not outright critical but thoughtful and careful, those are different motivations,” said Christian Grose, political science and public policy professor at the University of Southern California (USC), who has written extensively about impeachment.
Another Trump supporter likely to speak out is retiring Texas Congressman Mac Thornberry. A former House Armed Services Committee chairman, Thornberry has said while Trump’s using military aid to evoke a probe from Ukraine was “inappropriate,” the congressman also accuses Democrats of conducting a “tainted” investigation.
“There’s a reason we let murderers and robbers and rapists go free when their due process rights have been violated,” Thornberry said Sunday on ABC’s This Week.
But if you’re Republicans, including Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, and Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, who are either in tight races next year, or have been criticized by constituents, you’re likely to lay low or keep mum regarding the Ukraine scandal and the hearings, the experts say.
“Which is why so few Republicans have said anything negative at all,” said Howell. “They are cautious, and say things like, ‘I’m concerned bout some of the charges that are leveled,’ and ‘I’m waiting to see what the facts show.’
“That’s as close to a rebuke as you can get with the Republican party.”
Taylor adds, “this is about political survival. Those who can go down with Trump politically are the ones who are less inclined to speak out for him.”
“I think it all comes back to how their constituents feel,” said Grose about Republicans defending Trump. “If you represent a district or state that heavily supports the president and you go against the grain, you don’t want to be on the receiving end of perhaps a Trump tweet that can hurt your electoral base.”
More must-read stories from Fortune:
—Bernie Sanders dominates in donations from suburban women
—A government shutdown would be a huge risk for Trump
—Uber and Lyft fight labor leaders to determine the gig economy’s future
—The 2020 tax brackets are out. Here’s what you need to know
—More companies are openly supporting abortion rights
Get up to speed on your morning commute with Fortune’s CEO Daily newsletter.