December 19, 2019

For most of the day, it looked like today’s big story would be that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), along with Senate Minority Leader Charles (Chuck) Schumer (D-NY) had finally found a way to shove a stick in the spokes of the Republicans’ determination to acquit Donald Trump of all charges, no matter what the evidence said. But a surprise article in Christianity Today calling for Trump’s removal from office upstaged everything.

After the House passed articles of impeachment against Trump last night, Pelosi indicated that she was in no rush to send the case over to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had vowed to acquit Trump and had refused to entertain the notion of asking for the testimony of relevant witnesses. McConnell wants badly to get this case buried, and in a speech this morning complained bitterly that Schumer was not following precedent. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) accused the Democrats of committing “Constitutional extortion” if Pelosi did not hand over the articles immediately.

It was an interesting moment, for the Republicans under McConnell have repeatedly broken precedent for their own ends, most notably in their determination to dominate the federal courts. In 2016, McConnell refused to hold hearings for the nomination of President Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court, the moderate Merrick Garland, declaring that it was imperative to wait until after the 2016 election to fill the seat. Indeed, he stalled many of Obama’s judicial appointments, leaving a backlog that Trump has filled at such a breakneck pace he has picked more judges at this stage of his presidency than any other president in American history. Their outrage felt to me much like the outrage of bullies who are accustomed to calling all the shots when finally someone stands up to them.

And, as I wrote last night, Pelosi and Schumer hold a strong hand. They are asking for the testimony of four men closely involved in withholding aid to Ukraine, and 71% of Americans would also like to hear that testimony. McConnell and Graham haven’t much of a leg to stand on except to hope that their outrage will convince Americans that such testimony is unnecessary. Trump is pushing, as well. He rage tweeted about the impeachment all morning, then tweeted tonight to complain, once again, about the process of impeachment and to claim that the Democrats “want out.” He wrote: “I want an immediate trial!”

Well, of course he does. McConnell has already promised his acquittal in a short event that features no testimony and no witnesses. It does not seem unreasonable for the House leadership to demand that senators conduct a real trial, as the oaths they must take in an impeachment trial require.

But that was not today’s big news.

That came in the form of a short editorial in Christianity Today, a magazine that speaks primarily to mainstream evangelicals. Written by retiring editor-in-chief Mark Galli, the article calls for Trump’s removal from office on grounds of his immorality. “[T]he facts… are unambiguous,” he wrote. “The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.” It continues: “President Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath…. This damages the institution of the presidency, damages the reputation of our country, and damages both the spirit and future of our people. None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.”

The editorial lists the president’s many moral failings, and warns evangelicals—including those in Congress-- that support for a man with such a “blackened moral record” will injure the cause of evangelical religion. It charges Christians who support the president to “remember who you are and whom you serve…. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency.”

Christianity Today was started by evangelical leader Billy Graham, and while it has a readership of only about 250,000 people, they are influential. This break in the evangelical ranks was huge. White evangelicals are Trump’s most fervent supporters, clocking in at over 80% support for the president. This editorial provides an off ramp for those increasingly uncomfortable at their association with Trump.

The piece has done more than that, though. It has dominated the news, possibly because it is so refreshing to see a leader stand up to Trump and call out his behavior. At a time when Republicans in Congress seem to be operating in bad faith, it is an enormous relief to see someone in that camp actually act out of principle.

Indeed, Trump’s people seem to be pulling back a little after the craziness of the performances during the impeachment hearings and debates. Lindsay Graham yesterday spoke about his invitation to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about what he claims to have turned up in Ukraine. But Graham told reporters, “I don’t know what Rudy’s got, but I’m going to send him a letter. If you’re going to go on national television and tell the country that you’ve found evidence of a cover-up, then I hope you know what you’re talking about…. I like Rudy a lot, but we’re going to have to watch what we say.”

And there is more jockeying in advance of next year’s elections. Leaving open the idea that he might go work for Trump in some capacity, Representative Mark Meadows (R-NC), a staunch Trump supporter and one of the most powerful people in the House, became the twenty-first Republican to announce he is retiring. About 10% of Republicans have announced they’re out.

I suggested last night that the delay in delivering the articles of impeachment would allow time for more troubling material to come to light, and tonight—or rather this morning, just after midnight— some did. News dropped that lawyers for the administration told a federal judge that they have found as many as 2000 documents they should have disclosed in lawsuits over the citizenship question the administration tried to add to the 2020 census. Documents have already proven that the question was designed to suppress the political power of minority communities by enabling GOP legislatures to gerrymander more effectively, and it seems tied to Trump officials, especially Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Attorney General William Barr. This is the third time the administration has acknowledged that it has neglected to turn over required documents about this case.

Look for more news dumps in these days before the holidays, when the administration will look to bury bad news. If today is any indication, there might be a lot of it.

——

Notes:

McConnell and Graham: https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/475295-twitter-users-invoke-merrick-garland-after-mcconnell-graham-comments-on

What next: https://www.newsweek.com/trump-impeached-now-what-senate-2020-1478297

Trump tweets: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/12/19/trumps-impeachment-provokes-deeper-descent-into-demagoguery/

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/trump-impeachment-inquiry/mcconnell-says-pelosi-too-afraid-send-impeachment-articles-senate-n1104856

Christianity Today article: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/december-web-only/trump-should-be-removed-from-office.html

Interesting interview with Galli: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/12/christianity-today-trump-removal/603952/

Meadows: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/mark-meadows-is-now-the-21st-republican-to-retire-from-the-house/

Meadows interview: https://www.politico.com/newsletters/playbook/2019/12/19/mark-meadows-to-leave-congress-plus-what-mcconnell-will-say-on-impeachment-487938

Graham on Giuliani: https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/475179-graham-warns-giuliani-i-hope-you-know-what-youre-talking-about

Census docs: https://www.npr.org/2019/07/16/742259233/trump-officials-face-cover-up-allegations-after-failed-citizenship-question-push

Citizenship question explained: https://www.vox.com/2019/7/11/20689015/census-citizenship-question-trump-executive-order

Missing docs: