(Bloomberg) -- A top Democratic lawmaker says the potential impeachment of Donald Trump poses political risks to his party, at a time surveys shows nearly half of Americans -- but few Republicans -- support the president’s removal.
Moving ahead with a mostly party-line impeachment inquiry could damage Democrats at the polls in 2020, Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
“Sure it could. And that would make this whole process more political than I would like for it to be,” Clyburn said. He added that beyond politics, “this country is worth saving.”
A year out from the 2020 election, 49% of those surveyed in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken Oct. 27-30 said they support the impeachment and removal of Trump, up from 43% a month ago. Still, 90% of Republicans are opposed, the poll showed. A Fox News poll had a similar top-line result, with 49% in favor of impeachment, although that was down from 51% in early October.
Clyburn suggested that poll’s assessment of GOP support was too high, saying there’s “rising Republican support” for Trump’s impeachment when measured outside of the lawmakers standing resolutely behind the president.
Also on CNN, Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway said the president’s conduct toward Ukraine -- the centerpiece of the Democrats’ inquiry -- was “not impeachable.” Conway added that she didn’t know if the White House had held up aid to Ukraine for a time to achieve Trump’s goal of having the former Soviet republic investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival, and his son.
Conway criticized the inquiry days after House Democrats passed a resolution kicking off the public phase of their accelerating investigation that could see Trump impeached, potentially by the end of the year. The resolution sends a clear signal that a vote to impeach Trump, and then a trial in the Senate, is all but inevitable. Not a single GOP House member voted in favor of the resolution last week.
In a separate interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Conway said she wasn’t sure if the president had told former National Security Adviser John Bolton that he couldn’t testify as part of the House inquiry. Bolton’s lawyers have suggested he will not appear as scheduled this week.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday in an interview with Bloomberg News that she expects the Democratic-led inquiry to begin public hearings this month, though she insisted there’s no deadline to finish the investigation.
Representative Jim Himes of Connecticut, a senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Democrats will release the transcripts from the closed-door hearings that have occurred in recent weeks.
The public “will see what I’ve seen, which is the president’s most ferocious defenders, Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, Lee Zeldin, hammering these witnesses in these closed hearings,” Himes said on Fox.
The House Intelligence Committee will likely release the hearing transcripts this week and begin public hearings the week after, Democratic Representative Jackie Speier of California, a panel member, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Regardless of how it unfolds from here, the process is still wrong, Conway said on Fox. “You cannot cure what has been a flawed process from the beginning,” she said. “You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.”
Republican Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the deputy minority whip, said he wouldn’t close the door to approving an article of impeachment against Trump, but that he doesn’t think Trump did anything that “rises to that level.” He said there’s “very little likelihood” the president will be removed by the Republican-controlled Senate based on the evidence presented so far.
“So we’ve made a political decision to put everything on hold, divide the country for an outcome that we know -- and we’re doing it -- what’s going to happen,” Cole said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “That doesn’t make a lot of political sense and it’s bad for the country.”
Democratic House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel of New York was reminded on ABC’s “This Week” that he made similar comments in the 1990s during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Engel said the situation with Trump is different.
“It’s not a matter of will it be successful or whatever, that’s secondary,” Engel said. “The question you have to ask is, did the president really sell out his country with a bribe to a foreign power to get involved in the president’s personal, political election.”
Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House minority whip, insisted on ABC that Trump wasn’t talking about a political opponent but corruption when the president asked his Ukrainian counterpart to look into corruption and mentioned allegations against Biden.
Even so, former White House adviser Steve Bannon said on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures” that Biden and his son, Hunter, must be called to testify during impeachment hearings. Trump has made unsubstantiated charges of corruption against the Bidens in part because Hunter Biden was a board member of Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas company.
“Joe Biden is a hand grenade, and Hunter Biden’s the pin,” Bannon said. “And when that pin gets pulled, the shrapnel is going to blow back all over the Democratic establishment.”
Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, said on CBS that Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and his staff should be called to testify about how they handled a whistle-blower’s complaint regarding Trump’s July phone call with the Ukrainian president. Republicans have questioned whether the whistle-blower was coached and said he didn’t hear the call. McCarthy also said he wants the whistle-blower to testify.
But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on CBS that multiple people who listened to the call have confirmed the whistle-blower’s account.
“The problem that Kevin has and the Republicans have is witness after witness after witness says, ‘Yes, I was there, I listened, those are the facts,”’ Hoyer said.
Recent moves suggest that Trump understands the peril he faces. After resisting entreaties to add staff to the White House, he is likely to bring on a prominent public relations professional to help with communications about the inquiry, people familiar with the matter have said. His campaign, meanwhile, paid millions of dollars for a glitzy national television ad during the seventh and deciding game of baseball’s World Series.
Several polls in the past month have shown a swing toward public support for an inquiry, if not actual impeachment. But, like the new NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, it’s mostly driven by Democrats and independents. The overwhelming majority of Republicans continue to back Trump.
The acrimony over the impeachment effort may only widen as the process heads toward a more public airing of the details of Trump‘s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democrats and Biden.
With many of the facts already confirmed publicly by White House documents and Trump himself, the ultimate question for lawmakers to decide will be whether that conduct is impeachable.
(Updates with comments from Cole, McCarthy and Hoyer from 12th paragraph.)
--With assistance from Mark Niquette.
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