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Pressure points

Politics | Democrats take on a heavy burden with impeachment—one that could crush them if it fails
by Harvest Prude
Posted 9/26/19, 04:57 pm

Two months after the now-infamous July phone call between the U.S. and Ukrainian presidents, the two of them met in person Wednesday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. At a joint news conference, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he never felt any obligation to help President Donald Trump’s reelection chances as a result of what was said on the call.

“Nobody pushed me,” Zelensky said.

“In other words,” Trump added, “no pressure.”

Democrats are scouring documents and questioning witnesses for any evidence that could prove otherwise. On Tuesday, after months of reining in her caucus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., formally announced the launch of an impeachment inquiry against the president based on a whistleblower complaint about the call, which the White House initially withheld from Congress.

“[Democrats] had better hope that they find the smoking gun that they think is out there,” Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said in an interview on Wednesday’s edition of The World and Everything in It. “Because if they don’t, I think this has the possibility of making President Trump look like a martyr.”

Amy Black, a political science professor at Wheaton College, said in the end it will come down to whether Democrats can find enough evidence to make a case that Trump abused the powers of his office.

A memo released Wednesday by the White House shows Trump asked Zelensky on the call to “do us a favor” and cooperate with U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s investigation into the origins of the inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Trump also asked Zelensky to look into whether Joe Biden abused his power as vice president to protect his son, Hunter Biden, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company that was under investigation.

“The framers knew the bar would be very, very high [for impeachment],” Black said, adding, in this case, that means “not just asking another foreign leader to do something—that happens all the time. But asking a foreign leader to do something that will help you politically.”

On the call, Trump never directly mentioned offering aid in exchange for Zelensky’s cooperation. But Democrats claim Trump withheld military assistance to Ukraine in exchange for personal political favors. It is unclear whether Zelensky knew that days before the call, Trump directed U.S. officials to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine. Officials have since lifted the freeze.

As of Thursday afternoon, 220 members of the House (219 Democrats and one independent) said they supported the impeachment inquiry—above the 218-vote threshold needed to pass a bill. If the House eventually passes articles of impeachment, it would take 20 Republican senators joining all of their colleagues from across the aisle to convict the president.

So far, Republicans in Congress have either remained quiet or spoken out in Trump’s defense.

“The GOP will present a united front unless and until it becomes apparent that there is enough internal dissension to tip the scales, in which case there could be a bandwagon effect against Trump,” said Paul Miller, a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University and a former National Security Council staff director during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. “All you have to do is convince them that a President Mike Pence is more electable in 2020 than Trump.”

Associated Press/Photo by Evan Vucci Associated Press/Photo by Evan Vucci From left: UN Secretary-General António Guterres, President Donald Trump, and Vice President Mike Pence at an international religious freedom event Monday at the UN

Promoting religious liberty abroad and at home

President Donald Trump earlier this week urged other nations to take concrete steps to protect persecuted religious minorities around the world. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also spoke at the United Nations General Assembly event titled a “Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom.”

The president and other U.S. officials skipped most of a major UN climate summit on Monday to attend the meeting. In his speech at the religious liberty event, Trump announced his administration would allot $25 million to protect houses of worship, religious sites, and relics around the world. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom made protecting houses of worship a key recommendation in its 2019 report. The president also said he is working on forming a coalition of U.S. businesses that would promote religious freedom. He said the initiative would “encourage the private sector to protect people of all faiths in the workplace.”

“As we speak, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Yazidis, and many other people of faith are being jailed, sanctioned, tortured, and even murdered, often at the hands of their own government, simply for expressing their deeply held religious beliefs,” the president said.

Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy with World Relief, commended the president for bringing attention to religious persecution on the global stage but said the administration should make sure all its policies work toward that end. “We believe that the sharp declines in refugee resettlement over the last two years is directly counter to those goals,” she said.

Some faith and policy groups have expressed concern that the administration’s tightening of its refugee program could negatively affect persecuted people of faith hoping to find stability and safety in the United States.

“It’s important for [the administration] to practice at home what they’re preaching abroad,” Yang said. —H.P.

Associated Press/Photo by Nati Harnik Associated Press/Photo by Nati Harnik Joe Biden campaigning in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday

2020 update

The newly launched impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump was bad news for Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden. The furor over Trump’s July phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky brought renewed attention to the question of whether Biden used his power as vice president to protect his son from an investigation in Ukraine.

An early front-runner for the Democratic nomination in 2020, Biden dropped out of the top spot in a Quinnipiac survey released on Wednesday. About 27 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said they would vote for Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, while 25 percent favored Biden.

Warren’s narrow lead over Biden fell within the survey’s margin of error, but it shows just how much Biden has slipped. In August, Quinnipiac reported he had 32 percent of Democratic voters’ support, with Warren trailing him at 19 percent.

Almost across the board, 2020 Democratic contenders have reiterated their calls for Congress to impeach Trump. One exception: U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii has said she does not support impeachment because it would be too divisive. She told The Hill that reading the memo about the phone call between Trump and Zelensky did not change her mind.

“When you step outside of the bubble here in Washington and you get to where most folks in the country are … most people reading through that transcript are not going to find that extremely compelling cause to throw out a president that won an election in 2016,” Gabbard said. —H.P.

Emergency vote

The Senate voted Wednesday for a second time to terminate President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration at the U.S. southern border. The administration recently announced plans to divert $3.6 billion from military construction projects to bolster funding for a border wall.

Eleven Republicans sided with Democrats to pass a resolution disapproving of the emergency declaration by a vote of 54-41. Trump likely will veto it, just as he did the first resolution in March. Federal law allows Democrats to bring up the matter for a vote every six months. —H.P.

Editor’s note: WORLD has corrected the vote total in this report.

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Harvest Prude

Harvest is a political reporter for WORLD's Washington Bureau. She is a World Journalism Institute and Patrick Henry College graduate. Harvest resides in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter @HarvestPrude.

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  • OldMike
    Posted: Fri, 09/27/2019 12:14 pm

    The Democrats (being less than perceptive, as usual) think their echo chamber of whiners, victims, and slackers has all the votes they need. 

    They ignore the people who actually make this country work. They completely fail to understand the large number of ordinary folks who wake up every day and quietly go about the business of their jobs and families.  They don’t know about, or think irrelevant, the disgust with which we have viewed their antics and causes. 

    More power to the Dems. May they continue to stumble towards defeat. 

  • AlanE
    Posted: Fri, 09/27/2019 01:30 pm

    Actually, I'm worn out from political theater. I could wish there were people out there in elected office who cared more about doing what is right than protecting the interests of their party. I could wish there were elected officials out there who cared more about doing their job quietly than gaining exposure. As it is, things are all so absolutely wearisome. A certain level of trust is vital to being an effective citizen in a representative republic such as we have. I don't know how anyone feels they are getting the unvarnished truth from any of our elected representatives. The system does not reward simple truth.

  • not silent
    Posted: Sun, 09/29/2019 05:28 pm

    Agreed.  It's very frustrating.  I'm wondering if it would be possible for believers to join together in prayer as a group for our nation and our world without letting political differences get in the way.  Years ago, I was part of a group of Christians in my profession; and, although it no longer exists, I have never forgotten its tenets (which were apparently taken from a quote that has been attributed to Moravians, Puritans, and others): "Unity in essentials, Liberty in non-essentials, and Love over all."  I wonder if it would help for believers to use something like this when dealing with political expression.

  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Tue, 10/01/2019 11:15 am



  •  Xion's picture
    Posted: Wed, 10/02/2019 07:45 pm

    Does anyone in Washington find it odd that each push for impeachment is always before any evidence is found?  In other words, impeach first and find a reason later.  Should an impeachment begin the first day a president takes office?  And does anyone find it strange that Trump's latest "crime" is asking for an investigation, which is about getting to the truth.  That is much different than digging up political dirt or spying on a candidate or paying for a dirty Russian dossier or lying to the FISA court to start a partisan investigation.  Has anyone noticed that everything the Democrats accuse Trump of they do themselves?

  • Idaho ob
    Posted: Fri, 12/06/2019 12:32 am

    now the “esteemed” Wheaton professor says we have to show “abuse of power”?  When did we add that to the Constitution?  Doesn’t fit the definition based on centuries of legal language used.  Maybe Adam Schiff getting supeona for phone records of political rivals and President’s lawyer - then releasing these records public ally could be  abuse of power?  This would be more credible if the Dems hadn’t been hollering for impeachment from day one

    10 months from now we will have an election, but in the meantime academics anxious to be quoted will try to make this somehow legitimate.