On Thursday morning, the White House released what it said was a transcript of a July phone call between President Donald Trump and the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. The call is at the center of a rapidly escalating push to impeach the president of the United States.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has formally endorsed the opening of an impeachment inquiry, which puts House members from both parties in the spotlight, including those who represent Texas.
Abby Livingston is Washington bureau chief for The Texas Tribune. She says some Democrats, notably those in the progressive wing of the party, have called for impeachment “almost since the president took office.” But most Democrats in the House have held back. Livingston says calls for an impeachment inquiry grew after Rep. Adam Schiff, a Californian who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, “started to very cautiously move in that direction on the Sunday morning shows.”
In Pelosi’s subsequent statement, she called the Trump phone call “a grave new chapter of lawlessness.”
“That language shocked me,” Livingston says. “And I thought, ‘Oh boy, Pelosi’s starting to go there now.'”
Then, on Monday, a group of Democrats with national security or military backgrounds, who represent competitive districts, released a letter demanding details of the Trump call and the whistleblower complaint lodged by a member of the intelligence community.
Sean Theriault is a professor in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin. He says that so far, Republicans have backed the president, and opposed calls for his impeachment.
“But what we’re watching these last few days is those Democrats who won, just in this last election, defeating Republican incumbents – because they’re the ones whose jobs are on the line,” Theriault says.
For the president, impeachment may be a fight he wants: it would allow him to rally support from his base and from Republicans. And Theriault says the timing could also be wrong.
“It’s too soon. I think we could see impeachment happen pretty quickly, and if things don’t change in a radical way, we could have acquittal pretty quickly,” Theriault says. “I think this would play into his hands a little bit better if it were three or four months down the road.”
Theriault says Trump is likely to be acquitted unless two-thirds of the members of the Republican-controlled Senate vote to impeach.
“That requires 20 Republican senators to vote against a Republican president to remove him from office. That’s a pretty high standard,” he says.
Theriault points out that if impeachment were successful, Vice President Mike Pence would succeed Trump. Pence would be a competitive candidate in the 2020 election, he says.
Texas’ Republican senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, are unlikely to be among those who would vote to impeach Trump, Theriault says.
And Livingston says even Democrats expect that Trump would be acquitted in the Senate.
“It doesn’t seem to matter to most of these people who are pushing for impeachment,” Livingston says. “There is a sense that I get that this is a very sincere position they’re taking, and they’re prepared to lose their seats for it. … I am so used to politicians on Capitol Hill hedging their language, and these freshmen Democrats, two of whom are from Texas, are just very determined in this.”
Written by Shelly Brisbin.