Impeachment Divides Area Reps, Political Observers

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan and Bill Johnson represent neighboring congressional districts, but the pair’s views on the ongoing impeachment inquiry couldn’t be further apart. 

Ryan contends that President Donald Trump violated his oath of office by trying to convince a foreign leader to “dig up dirt on a political opponent.” 

Johnson, first sent to Congress as part of the GOP wave in 2010, views the inquiry as an attempt by the left to overturn the results of the 2016 election. 

The Democrat-led House is looking into whether the Trump administration sought to leverage nearly $400 million in aid and a White House meeting to induce Ukraine to investigate – or at least announce an investigation of – an energy company with links to Hunter Biden, the son of potential 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, as well as a widely debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election to benefit Democrats. 

The House completed two weeks of open testimony last week, and multiple new developments in the investigation are disclosed daily. The House Judiciary Committee announced Tuesday that it had scheduled its first hearing for Dec. 4, after a judge ruled that former White House counsel Don McGahn must testify in the probe.

“To me, it’s pretty straightforward,” said Ryan, D-13 Ohio, who in June called for impeaching Trump. “All of the witnesses corroborated this was happening. He picked his own political positing over the best interests of the country.”

Had either of Trump’s Democratic predecessors – Barack Obama or Bill Clinton – taken the same actions, he likewise would have said their actions were worthy of impeachment, Ryan said.

Ryan’s counterpart in Ohio’s 6th congressional district countered that witnesses were asked “every way they can be asked” whether they had seen any evidence of quid pro quo, bribery or obstruction of justice and said they hadn’t, Johnson argued.

U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified that a phone call and meeting between Ukraine’s president and Trump, as well as the aid, he believed, was conditioned on a public statement by the foreign leader announcing the investigations Trump allegedly wanted. 

In his statement and testimony, Sondland stated there was a “quid pro quo” that was widely known to administration officials and Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, though he did not hear that directly from Trump, Sondland acknowledged. 

“[He] said it was his perception,” Johnson said. “I don’t know when this charade is going to end, but I can tell you that the people that I represent, they’re getting tired of it.”

Johnson said his constituents want Congress to work on reducing the price of prescription drugs, expanding broadband infrastructure in rural America, protecting and  securing the border, and funding the military, not “trying to overturn the results of the 2016 election,” he added.

The facts make “very clear” that Trump was coordinating the effort by urging officials to talk to Giuliani, Ryan said. The difference in how he and Johnson view the inquiry is an example of the polarization taking place in the country now. 

“It’s very, very clear that a lot of the Republicans are trying to protect the president,” Ryan said. Trump remains popular in the GOP and no Republican wants to cross him for fear of the president backing an opponent in the party’s primary.

If Trump is in fact innocent of the accusations, he should release the documents sought by investigators and allow his associates to testify, Ryan said. In a tweet Tuesday, Trump said he was “fighting for future presidents and the office of the president,” a notion Ryan dismissed. 

“It’s hard for me to take the president seriously,” he said. 

Although he agrees with Trump on certain positions — including being tougher on China’s trade practices and a potentially improved version of the North American Free Trade Agreement – Ryan noted the president also has told “numerous lies.” 

If the president thinks he has done nothing wrong, then why is he withholding documents and preventing administration officials and Giuliani from testifying, Ryan asked. 

Ryan anticipates that the House would vote to impeach Trump but that the U.S. Senate, where Republicans hold the majority, will not vote to convict and remove Trump – which would require a two-thirds supermajority to do – a position held by several political observers who reflected on the testimony of the past two weeks. 

How effective the case Democrats have made so far depends on the perspective being taken, said attorney David Betras, former chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party. From a legal perspective, Democrats made a credible case, but failed to do so from a political perspective. 

“Since impeachment is a political process and not a legal process, I would say they didn’t make a compelling case,” he said. 

Betras called the past few weeks revelations “disturbing” but characterized the impeachment inquiry as “a colossal mistake’ from a political standpoint. 

The general public lacks the time or capacity to “appreciate the complexities” of the Ukraine situation, he said, and Democrats, from the day Trump took office, have acted like their hair was on fire.

“All the public sees is bald Democrats,” he said. “We’ve been crying ‘wolf’ so much no one is listening to us crying anymore.” 

He also said Trump is an “unconventional president” who “defies gravity.” 

Continued focus on impeachment also diverts attention from issues that matter to the public, including “paychecks, pensions and health care,” he said.     

The second week of testimony provided “pretty significant and negative” information regarding Trump’s mindset, Giuliani’s role and the reported connections between the proposed White House meeting and the investigations Trump reportedly sought, said Capri Cafaro, an analyst for Fox News and a former Democratic Ohio state senator. 

In addition to Sondland, also testifying last week were Fiona Hill, former senior director for Europe and Russia for the National Security Council, and U.S. diplomat David Holmes, who overheard a phone call with Trump related to the inquiry. 

“There’s no question in my mind that a great deal of improper and unethical activity has occurred,” Cafaro said. The question still remains whether anything rises to “the level of high crimes and misdemeanors from an impeachment perspective,” she added. 

There has been conflicting polling regarding impeachment, she continued. One poll shows rising support for moving forward on impeachment among independents, even as some reports show “cold feet” among Democratic lawmakers who have to run in swing districts.

“Democrats in the House almost have no choice but to go forward with something,” she said. “Last week’s testimony was so negative that I think the base will revolt if some action isn’t taken.”

The problem for Democrats is there were never the votes to convict before, and nothing coming out during the past few weeks “has changed that reality,” said Paul Sracic, chairman of the department of politics and international relations at Youngstown State University. 

Failure to land a conviction in the Senate could damage Democrats, he pointed out. 

“When you indict somebody and try them and they’re not convicted, you take that to be an acquittal,” he said. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had opposed impeachment proceedings earlier because of the situation’s potential to backfire on her party. 

“It’s starting to look like it’s going to,” Sracic said. 

Image via Kevin McCoy [CC BY-SA 2.0]

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