In the wake of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman's devastating recent deposition as part of the House's impeachment inquiry, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said, "I thought it was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign government to investigate a political opponent." The Ohio Republican added, however, "I also do not think it's an impeachable offense."
On ABC News' This Week yesterday, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, used nearly identical phrasing during an interview with Martha Raddatz. From the transcript:
RADDATZ: Congressman, you're again talking about process. The process. I asked you about substance. How do you fend against the substance?
THORNBERRY: Well, as you know -- maybe you know, Martha -- I believe it's inappropriate for a president to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival. Now that leads to a question if there's a political rival with a family member who is involved in questionable activity, what do you do? Just let them alone.
But set that aside. I believe it was inappropriate. I do not believe it was impeachable.
The Texan went on to say, in reference to Trump's July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, "[T]here's not anything that the president said in that phone call that's different than he says in public all the time."
I'm not sure it helps Trump when his supporters suggest the president routinely and publicly abuses the powers of his office.
Nevertheless, it's worth emphasizing that represents a subtle shift in posture for Republicans. As we discussed the other day, after the U.S. House formally approved a measure to proceed with the impeachment inquiry, House Republican leaders held a press conference at which a reporter asked, "Will you all go on the record and say the president did nothing inappropriate?"
There were dozens of GOP lawmakers on the stage at the time. They collectively responded, "Yes."
This was, of course, a ridiculous posture -- though the president insisted yesterday it's the one he expects his party to stick to -- but more importantly, it was unsustainable. The evidence of "inappropriate" actions in Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal was, and is, overwhelming. Some Republicans may see value in playing make-believe and pretending the entire controversy is a mirage, but the vast majority of fair-minded observers will know better.
And some GOP officials seem to realize that, prompting lawmakers like Thornberry to adopt an "inappropriate, but not impeachable" posture, which isn't as plainly bonkers as the original party line, though it still doesn't work.