Just how much control will the Trump White House have over the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump?
The White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone, just walked into Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office. Chances are good it wasn’t for a friendly game of checkers.
And Cipollone was accompanied by Eric Ueland, a former member of the Trump transition team who Trump tried to hand a top State Dept. job to but was forced to pull his nomination. A recent promotion has elevated him to now serving as the White House Director of Legislative Affairs, after spending years working for then-Senator Jeff Sessions.
Pat Cipollone and Eric Uleland just popped into McConnell’s office pic.twitter.com/FFQCOcJglO
— Alan He (@alanhe) December 12, 2019
One thing is clear: the Senate should not be working with the White House to pre-determine how the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump will be conducted or will play out.
Remember, it was just six says ago that Cipollone sent this angry letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, effectively saying Trump and the White House would not participate in the House’s impeachment hearings.
WH counsel Cipollone breaks out the Sharpie and tells the House Judiciary Committee the WH will not participate pic.twitter.com/EF4A8fE48c
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) December 6, 2019
Cipollone called the impeachment inquiry “baseless.” He insisted it was both a waste of time and should be done “fast” so Trump could win in the Senate.
Experts say Cipollone’s December 6 letter in conjunction with his repeated refusal to hand over any documents or comply with congressional subpoenas may have forced the House to add the obstruction charge to the Articles of Impeachment.
Which apparently is where we are today.
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Trump Blames Obama for Iran Attack Then Takes Credit for Obama’s Accomplishments in Off-the-Rails Address to the Nation
After three years there were likely few Americans hoping for some form of comfort from President Donald Trump’s address to the nation Wednesday in the wake of Tuesday night’s attack by Iran on air bases in Iraq that host thousands of U.S. Military troops. And President Trump, true to form, did not offer any.
The President descended as if from heaven (photo above) onto a stage filled with his military generals and advisors,
Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. A clear attempt to show strength which the administration apparently felt the Commander-in-Chief could not summon if he appeared on camera alone. A sad statement.
“As long as I’m president of the United States Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon,” Trump, out of breath, declared as he walked up to the podium, flanked by his men in uniform. He then said: “Good morning.”
President Trump was expected to give Americans hope and comfort, and a clear indication that they are safe from attack.
Instead, he tried to show strength through military might – with no suggestion diplomacy might be a better route.
And he lied.
“The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration,” Trump claimed, blaming President Barack Obama in a speech watched around the world.
“Iran’s hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2013,” Trump claimed. (It was actually 2015.)
He added, “they were given $150 billion, not to mention $1.8 billion in cash. Instead of saying ‘thank you’ to the United States, they chanted ‘death to America.’ In fact, they chanted ‘death to America’ the day the agreement was signed.”
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) January 8, 2020
Those billions belonged to Iran, and reportedly were less than the numbers Trump quoted. They were Iranian funds frozen which had been paid to the U.S. for arms never delivered. It is a frequent trump lie he tells at rallies over and over.
“Then, Iran went on a terror spree, funded by the money from the deal, and created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq,” Trump claimed in his address to the nation – and to the world. “The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration. The regime also greatly tightened the reins on their own country, even recently killing 1,500 people at the many protests that are taking place all throughout Iran.”
“The very defective JCPOA [the “Iran deal”] expires shortly anyway,” Trump said. That’s just false – another lie Trump often tells. Various parts expire between 2025 and 2030.
He claimed the JCPOA “gives Iran a clear and quick path to nuclear breakout,” which again is false.
After falsely blaming Obama for Iran’s attack he went on to take credit for Obama paving to road to energy independence.
“Over the last three years, under my leadership, our economy is stronger than ever before and America has achieved energy independence. These historic accomplishments changed our strategic priorities. These are accomplishments that nobody thought were possible.”
Here’s CNN’s Keith Boykin with graphs showing just how false Trump’s energy independence remarks were:
So Trump gave his big Iran speech, lied again by blaming President Obama, denied responsibility for the effects of his own withdrawal from the Iran Deal (JCPOA), and took credit for increased US oil and gas production that began under President Obama.https://t.co/DjVeCXqTV3 pic.twitter.com/c2l3WA3p8K
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) January 8, 2020
Legal Expert Makes the Case for Trump to Resign — but Why Have So Few Others Demanded He Step Down?
In a new op-ed for CNN, constitutional law professor F. Michael Higginbotham argued Friday that President Donald Trump should resign from office.
Higginbotham argued in the op-ed that President Richard Nixon’s resignation in the face of his own impeachment could be seen to represent, despite his grave abuses, “an act of patriotism.”
Nixon “protected not only his own historical legacy but also the country he had taken an oath to serve,” Higginbotham wrote. “Donald Trump should follow suit.”
Trump should resign so the country can begin the process of healing. The divisions in the country today are even more corrosive than they were in 1974. That’s why it’s even more important that Trump emulate the best of Richard Nixon, who, in a rare moment of grace, understood he could only weaken the nation he led by focusing solely on himself, and chose the better path.
In President Trump’s acceptance speech of the Republican nomination at the Republican National Convention in 2016, he told the nation, “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” While many mocked the hubris behind that claim, at this moment of national danger it is undoubtedly true: Trump alone can spare the nation the painful ordeal of an impeachment trial in the Senate.
While Trump is written about extensively every single day, such calls are relatively few. For all the tumult, investigation, and fierce partisanship Trump’s presidency has produced, it’s produced surprisingly sparse demands for his resignation. Even as Trump has been impeached by the House of Representatives, and top newspapershave called for the president’s removal, the other option — the only way a president has actually been ousted from office via the impeachment process — remains woefully under-discussed. And though Democrats have occasionally called for the resignation of administration officials such as Attorney General Bill Barr and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, they seem hesitant to take the same step for the president himself. Instead, they often call on him to stop creating division and “lead” the country.
But “leading the country” is exactly what Trump has repeatedly proven himself incapable of doing.
What’s odd about the relative dearth of calls for is that Trump’s conduct clearly merits it. I’ve argued that calling for Trump’s resignation was the Democrats’ best move since they took the House of Representatives. And if, as many do, you think it’s appropriate for Trump to be impeached or removed, you should probably also think that it would be best if he just stepped down without all the conflict. In fact, it would be reasonable to argue that Trump should resign, but that an ultimately doomed impeachment process is too disruptive for the country. So in theory, there should be more support for Trump’s resignation than there is for his removal.
So why aren’t we deluged with calls for Trump’s resignation? CNN host Chris Cuomo’s response to the Higginbotham piece probably sums up the explanation:
Zero chance https://t.co/tICs6UFxKB
— Christopher C. Cuomo (@ChrisCuomo) December 27, 2019
Everyone assumes — almost certainly correctly — that Trump will never agree to resign the presidency. He hates admitting failure, he loves the adulation the office provides, and he fears the potential legal consequences of no longer being protected from prosecution. Nixon was a monster with a devoted base of support, but he realized eventually that it was time to throw in the towel. It’s nearly impossible to imagine a plausible scenario in which Trump does the same — and not just because the Republican Party seems even more devoted to the current president than it was to Nixon. He won’t even admit that his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was far from “perfect,” even though this admission could have helped him.
But the fact that Trump would almost never agree to resign doesn’t mean we should ignore the obvious fact that he should. Ignoring this option lets Trump off the hook for his own responsibilities, and it lowers the bar for the presidential standard of behavior.
Many Republicans have spoken out against impeachment by citing the fact that it will be divisive for the country and create more animosity or tension. By calling for resignation as a potential alternative to impeachment, Trump’s critics could point out that any resulting division from impeachment proceedings is at least as much the fault of the president. Democrats could argue that Trump’s behavior forced them to pursue impeachment, but if he were gracious and cared about the country, he could bring it to a peaceful end.
This reframes the discourse around Trump’s impeachment in a useful way, especially when pressed against Republicans who can’t bring themselves to defend the president’s conduct on the merits. And it exposes and dispenses with the implicit idea that Democrats are the only actors responsible for preserving constitutional government; that obligation falls just as heavily on the shoulders of Trump and the Republicans.
Far-Right White Evangelicals — Despite Impeachment and Ukraine Scandal — Still See Trump as ‘The Chosen One’
In the 1980s, the late Sen. Barry Goldwater — who was considered an arch-conservative in his day — famously asserted that the Republican Party was making a huge mistake by embracing the Christian Right, which he described as a “terrible damn problem” for the conservative movement. But President Donald Trump, on the other hand, enthusiastically welcomes the support of far-right white evangelicals — some of whom are declaring that the impeachment inquiry he is facing is against God’s will and that demonic forces are trying to remove the president from office.
On November 21, evangelist Franklin Graham (son of the late Rev. Billy Graham and a strident Trump supporter) discussed impeachment when he appeared on fellow wingnut Eric Metaxas’ radio show. Graham told Metaxas that it’s “almost a demonic power that is trying” to remove Trump from office — to which Metaxas responded, “I would disagree. It’s not almost demonic. You know and I know, at the heart, it’s a spiritual battle.”
When far-right evangelicals speak of a “spiritual battle,” they typically mean one between God and Satan — and clearly, Graham and Metaxas believe that Trump is working for God, while his political opponents are working for Satan.
Republican Rick Perry, secretary of energy in the Trump Administration and former governor of Texas, has also claimed that Trump is on a mission from God. Perry, during a recent appearance on Fox News, described Trump as “the chosen one” and claimed he has been “sent by God to do great things.”
Many of Trump’s critics have had a hard time understanding why he is so popular with the Christian Right, which wanted to see President Bill Clinton impeached in the late 1990s for having an extramarital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Trump, according to his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, had extramarital affairs with a porn star (Stormy Daniels) and a Playboy model (Karen McDougal) and paid them hush money to keep quiet. But the Christian Right is extremist tribalist in its thinking; so, even though Trump has never been especially religious (he’s a non-practicing Presbyterian) and former President Barack Obama has a long history of going to church, far-right white evangelicals view Trump as an ally and Obama as an enemy.
Similarly, white Christian fundamentalists detest South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a churchgoing Episcopalian and Democratic presidential candidate who often talks about his faith. Buttigieg is obviously more religious than Trump, but he is a non-fundamentalist Mainline Protestant — and the Christian Right doesn’t see him as part of their tribe. In fact, the Christian Right view Obama and Buttigieg as infidels, not unlike Islamic fundamentalists who view non-jihadist Muslims as infidels.
Journalist Chris Hedges, a non-fundamentalist Christian who has written a lot about the role that faith can play in left-wing politics, uses the term “Christian fascists” to describe the Christian Right. Hedges considers the Christian Right a dangerous authoritarian movement, often stressing that Trump appeals to the Christian Right’s authoritarian tendencies.
Such tendencies were evident in October after the death of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who chaired the House Oversight Committee. Cummings was quite religious: his association with the New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore spanned at least 40 years, and the Maryland Democrat would sing the Christian hymn “This Little Light of Mine” at civil rights marches. Yet some far-right evangelicals celebrated his death, insisting that God struck him down for opposing Trump.
Christian fundamentalist Stacey Shiflett, for example, said of Cummings, “Everything that he’s done has been nothing but trying to take this president out. I believe that God had had enough, and God moved.”
Hanna Selinger, in a November 26 article for The Independent, delves into the Christian Right’s unwavering adoration of Trump and explains why white Christian fundamentalists hold him in such high regard despite his not-so-Christian behavior.
“For evangelicals,” Selinger explains, “Donald Trump offers deliverables. The conservatives who follow the letter of the law when it comes to the Bible count among their most important issues ‘family values’: abortion, gay marriage, and so on. On these issues, Trump has offered a far-right tack. Despite who he actually is as a person, he checks the boxes — enabling evangelicals to look the other way and toward a perceived ‘greater good.’”
Christian Right voters, Selinger observes, “are willing to separate morals in a president from morals in a country. These voters will pull the lever for a man who prevaricates daily, who has had multiple wives and even more affairs. That’s because they believe that those characteristics outweigh the things they want done in Washington.”
Selinger adds, “Rick Perry is no different. He too is willing to overlook gross misconduct, of which he was part, simply because he likes the president’s policies.”
If a Democratic president had asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate a political revival and made that investigation a condition of military aid, far-right theocrats like Graham, Perry, Metaxas and Liberty University’s Jerry Falwell, Jr. would be demanding his impeachment. But because Trump become an honorary member of the Christian Right, he gets a pass.
The Christian Right, Selinger asserts, is unlikely to turn against Trump.
“This is the problem with Trump and his allies, and it begins with religion: what it means to follow God has been lost in a political game that places legislative wins over moral losses,” Selinger writes. “Will evangelicals ever see the light? As Rick Perry demonstrates in his ruthless sycophancy, the odds are slim.”
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