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The problem with the GOP pushback against Trump's impeachment

If Republicans are sincere about their newfound interest in "unity," shouldn't they stand with Democrats in trying to remove Trump from office?
Image: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks during a weekly news conference on Capitol Hill on Sept. 26, 2019.Zach Gibson / Getty Images

As Donald Trump's second impeachment advances this week, there's no shortage of Republicans making the case that it's a bad idea. While that's obviously not surprising, it's the nature of the GOP argument that's worth considering in more detail.

What we don't see is a group of prominent Republican voices scrambling to defend Trump's conduct on the merits. Or put another way, the standard defense for any president accused of high crimes and misdemeanors is to argue, "The president didn't commit an impeachable offense." That claim, for the most part, is largely absent from the current debate.

Instead, one of the principal arguments from GOP officials is a newfound interest in "unity."

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is readying himself to seize the title as the nation's great unifier — never mind his robust record of trying to undermine the democratic process. McCarthy announced on Friday that he had plans to chat with President-elect Joe Biden on how to unite the country days after McCarthy supported an effort to overturn the presidential election that culminated in a deadly insurrection on Wednesday.

"I have reached out to President-elect Biden today and plan to speak to him about how we must work together to lower the temperature and unite the country," McCarthy wrote.

The House minority leader seemed far less interested in "uniting the country" last week when he voted to reject electoral votes earned by President-elect Joe Biden. Last month, McCarthy also signed onto a court brief, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to help overturn election results.

Or put another way, McCarthy would like Biden to "lower the temperature" that McCarthy raised, while simultaneously demanding that Donald Trump doesn't face any consequences for his actions.

Of course, if Republicans are sincere about their newfound interest in "unity," shouldn't they stand side-by-side with Democrats in trying to remove Trump from office? Why should "unity" mean Democrats have to move closer to the GOP?

Another talking point seems to be that a second impeachment process could be dangerous. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) tweeted over the weekend, "Those calling for impeachment or invoking the 25th Amendment in response to President Trump's rhetoric this week are themselves engaging in intemperate and inflammatory language and calling for action that is equally irresponsible and could well incite further violence."

It's a difficult argument to take seriously. We're apparently supposed to believe that holding Trump responsible for his actions might "incite" some of his dangerous followers, so it's better to ignore accountability and appease those who might become violent.

Finally, there's Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who argued the other day, "Any attempt to impeach President Trump would not only be unsuccessful in the Senate but would be a dangerous precedent for the future of the presidency."

The counterpoint, of course, is that doing nothing after a sitting president incited an insurrection would also set "a dangerous precedent."

Just as importantly, as Mother Jones' Kevin Drum recently explained, "[T]rying to overturn an election violently and illegally in order to stay in power is, by definition, something that a president can only do during his last month or so in power. Doing nothing about it sends a message that lame duck presidents can basically do anything with impunity. I hardly need to explain why this is a very bad precedent to set."

The White House is reportedly reaching out to congressional allies, encouraging them to push back against impeachment, but if they're trying to persuade anyone, Republicans will probably need better arguments.