The Trump administration on Wednesday organized a flurry of separate events promoting the president’s tax cut and the roaring economy, part of the Republican strategy to undercut the debate over impeaching the president over his sacking of the FBI director.
Responding to growing Democratic opposition to the administration’s policy toward immigrants and to the president’s comments about the midterm elections, lawmakers of both parties pushed back against the idea that Trump could be impeached. But some Republicans also acknowledged that the president’s prospects for averting removal from office were faltering.
“For him to be removed, two-thirds of both chambers would have to vote to remove him,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said on a call with reporters on Wednesday. Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said he did not think that would happen.
Nevertheless, Cornyn called for impeachment hearings, so that House Republicans could defend the president’s actions, as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., did Wednesday in a debate on a Senate floor.
Other Republicans went further. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said on the same Senate floor that the time has come to revisit the issue of impeachment. Kennedy, a former federal prosecutor, said he believed the only two violations that would justify removal from office are obstruction of justice and bribery.
But he went on to say that other grounds, including racial discrimination, suggest “the proper remedy” would be to find that the president might be “incapable of discharging the duties of his office.”
The GOP efforts come as growing numbers of Republican lawmakers, still worried about prospects for control of the House, start hearing that one of the top impeachment tools could disappear from their toolbox. The sweeping tax cuts that Congress enacted at the end of 2017 would require that money be set aside each year from the government’s budget surplus to cover a deep reduction in the tax burdens of wealthy people. There has been bipartisan agreement for a decade that the Clinton-era “bailout of the rich” had contributed to the budget deficit. Republicans now favor reverting to the policy of expanding the budget surplus to cover tax cuts for the middle class.
Republicans, who had hoped their tax cuts would do enough to improve public perceptions of the economy to help them win House control in 2018, were unprepared when the tax cuts later led to an outsized budget deficit that threatens to force a showdown between Trump and congressional Democrats. At best, Republicans now acknowledge, it is unlikely that the tax cuts and the increasing budget deficit can be offset by undoing the tax cuts or cutting domestic programs.
Last week, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, laid out a plan with other moderate Republicans to put a stick in the spokes of the impeachment debate, arguing that the rising budget deficit did not justify impeachment.
“It was an extraordinary accomplishment” to pass the tax cuts last year, Collins said in an interview Wednesday. She said that while she supported investigations of the Trump administration’s conduct, and urged Democrats to do the same, “I don’t think it’s going to be productive” to talk about impeachment now.
Collins and her Republican allies offered legislation this week that would exempt most of the federal government’s $12 trillion worth of bonds from the proposed cuts in the budget. While Republicans hope that Republicans in the House would be able to send the legislation to Trump’s desk, it is unclear whether it would win enough Democratic support to advance.
“You know, I could count on one hand,” Cornyn said, if he had the votes to repeal all the tax cuts in the short term, even though this “would increase the deficit by billions of dollars.”
Norman Ornstein, a political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said it was possible that a “couple dozen” Republicans in the House might take that route. But if they did, it might be too late to forestall impeachment. “There’s only a 20 percent chance it would pass the Senate, and a 30 percent chance it would be repealed by presidential veto,” Ornstein said.
Trump has often said that the Senate might decide to remove him, and Republican leaders say privately that they are willing to consider such an unprecedented scenario, if necessary.
But Graham acknowledged Wednesday that more than one Republican or even both parties might have to agree for a president to be removed from office, so a filibuster might be needed.
“All this business about what I call the congressional thugs come down to a reality where there’s two ways it can happen,” Graham said. “One is, if we’re lucky,