Republican lawmakers are seeking to project confidence after Democrats launched a formal impeachment inquiry against President Trump, painting the move as a political ploy that will help turn out its base in 2020.
The display of bravado comes after Democrats have seized on allegations from a whistleblower that Trump sought to persuade Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, the front-runner in the Democratic nomination.
Republicans admit the allegations point to a potentially devastating picture for Trump at a time when he was headed to a tough reelection and at a time when Republicans are facing long odds of retaking the House and are defending more seats than Democrats are in the Senate.
But GOP lawmakers also believe they can use the Democratic impeachment push to rally Republican voters to their side — much like how Democrats defended former President Bill Clinton when he was impeached and later acquitted by the Senate.
Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), who is running for an open Senate seat in Kansas, said impeachment will be seen as “very detrimental for the Democrats.”
“I really think that actually just solidifies the president’s victory. The people back home … I’ve never seen them so fired up, and they’re going to get out and vote and support this president. Big uptick and fundraising for the president, and for us as well,” he told The Hill.
“Kansans want us to focus on solving problems. They’re sick of this impeachment business. This is another witch hunt. This is the sequel to the Russian hoax. So I think it’s going to motivate people, even independents and moderates are just fed up with all this infighting.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the House GOP’s campaign arm, has ramped up its attacks on freshman Democrats who flipped seats during the midterms, sending dozens of emails this week, accusing them of sparking “a constitutional crisis” and of “rabid” partisanship.
“New Jersey Democrats jumped on the crazy train with their Democrat colleagues obsessed with throwing our country into a constitutional crisis and it will cost them their seats in 2020,” an email from the NRCC targeting New Jersey Democratic freshmen Reps. Mikie Sherrill, Andy Kim and Tom Malinowski said.
Republicans are also looking to portray Democrats as prioritizing impeachment over legislating on issues that matter to Americans such as health care.
“It seems like they’re starting at impeachment and trying to backfill in some sort of reason after the fact, and it’s going to cost them the majority in next November,” NRCC spokesman Chris Pack told The Hill.
“I mean, we’re just going to draw attention to the fact that all of these freshman Democrats … they ran really as moderate Republicans, and now they’re joining their impeachment obsessed base, which is going to tank their majority next November,” he added.
Pack also claimed Republicans had seen a surge in campaign contributions ever since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced her support for the start of an impeachment inquiry on Tuesday.
Democrats, however, believe public opinion is already turning to their side — and that they will prevail in 2020 as long as they maintain a careful and measured approach to impeachment.
House Democrats have largely united behind impeachment, with 223 members now backing starting an inquiry.
Three recent polls showed a rise in support for impeachment after the allegations over Trump’s call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, including a 10-point jump in the NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist poll and 12-point jump in the latest Hill-Harris X survey.
Democrats argue that Trump’s call with Zelensky will be seen by the American public as clear evidence that Trump tried to pressure his foreign counterpart into launching an investigation into Biden, as detailed in a memo released by the White House this week.
“This is a very simple story that Americans get,” Steve Gordon, a Democratic strategist and principal at the Gordon Group, told The Hill. “Americans understand what the president did wrong and agree what he did was wrong.”
“With that said, the Democrats need to be judicious and thoughtful as they approach it, so that way they can bring more of the country along with them.”
However, impeachment is seen as holding perils for both parties.
Democrats are mindful they could be seen as overplaying their hand and worry impeachment could overwhelm issues such as improving health care that helped them win the House in 2018 and that they were hoping to use again in 2020.
It was a message that Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s head Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) sought to convey.
“As the Intelligence Committee investigates this sad chapter in our nation’s history, I call on my colleagues in their critical roles to keep their focus on the important work at hand to bring down the cost of health care, rebuild America’s infrastructure and reinvigorate the American dream for families in every corner of our country,” Bustos said.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez reflected a similar sentiment in a statement.
“Democrats are fighting day in and day out to expand access to health care, raise wages, help the American worker, and uphold the rule of law,” Perez said.
But Republicans acknowledge they are on the defensive, especially as House Democrats step up their investigation of the allegations.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Friday subpoenaed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for documents relating to the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine, indicating Democrats are wasting no time diving into the formal impeachment inquiry.
“I think it’s too early to tell — I think anybody who tells you they know how it’s going to play out for House races is a way ahead of themselves,” Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), who previously served as the chairman of the NRCC, told The Hill.
“I think we all need to take a deep breath and see what happens here,” he added. “It would be easy to see the Democrats overplaying their hand, and they already seem to be moving that direction, but I’m not ready to say that’s definitely how it plays out yet.”