More GOP senators struggle with basic Trump scandal questions

Updated

CBS News’ Margaret Brennan asked Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) yesterday whether it’s appropriate for Donald Trump to urge foreign countries to go after one of his domestic rivals. “Look, of course not,” the Texas Republican replied. “Elections in the U.S. should be decided by Americans and it’s not the business of foreign countries, any foreign countries, to be interfering in our elections.”

Cruz added, “Listen, foreign countries should stay out of American elections. That’s true for Russia. That’s true for Ukraine. That’s true for China. That’s true for all of them. It should be the American people deciding elections.”

This, of course, was the correct answer. It’s also the one some of his Republican colleagues – most notably Iowa’s Joni Ernst and Colorado’s Cory Gardner – refused to offer, afraid to take a stand on principle.

But as it turns out, they aren’t the only ones struggling. After some unhelpful exchanges, CNN’s Jake Tapper yesterday asked Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), “Are you really not capable of answering a question about whether or not it’s acceptable for a president to ask a foreign rival to investigate his political rivals, to ask a foreign nation to investigate his political rivals without bringing up Hunter Biden?” Cramer wouldn’t respond directly.

But even more striking was an exchange late last week between Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Boise State Public Radio about the White House scandal.

“I’m not going there. If you want to have an interview with me about the business center, please do so,” Risch said, before turning and walking away.

“Don’t do that again,” he said.

So, at a public event, a journalist isn’t supposed to ask the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about an ongoing scandal involving U.S. foreign policy? Is that the point we’ve reached?

In a written follow-up statement, Risch’s office added, “We are in a very partisan and volatile time in American politics, and the House’s impeachment inquiry has clearly enflamed these ongoing tensions. It’s unproductive to weigh in on each and every development. Rather than commenting on every new piece of information, the senator is monitoring these issues and will comment if and when impeachment proceedings move to the Senate and he has cast his official vote as a juror in those impeachment proceedings.”

To recap, the Idaho Republican believes it’s the Democratic House, and not the Republican president’s abuses of power, that have “enflamed” political tensions. Perhaps, if the House simply ignored Trump’s wrongdoing the way the GOP-led Senate does, conditions would be less “volatile.”

Risch also noted his role as a likely “juror” in impeachment proceedings, which is true, but which doesn’t prevent the Idahoan from acknowledging that seeking foreign interference in American elections is wrong.

If Ted Cruz, whom no one would call a center-left Rockefeller Republican, can endorse the unambiguous underlying principle, why can’t other GOP senators do the same?