WELL THEN. A lot happened in the last 48 hours. The hurricane of BS surrounding us in the Trump Era can be overwhelming, but this saga unfolded particularly quickly—so before we get into why events like formal impeachment in the House and a unanimous Republican rebuke to Trump in the Senate have taken place, let’s recap what Trump did that finally pushed Congress over the line.
This summer, a whistleblower from the intelligence community filed a complaint around a phone call Trump had with the President of Ukraine on July 25th. According to Trump and his personal attorney/unofficial Secretary of State, Rudy Giuliani, they demanded that Ukraine’s president open an investigation into Joe Biden, surrounding the dismissal of a well-known and wildly corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor that the entire Western world succeeded in removing while Joe Biden was Vice President. Biden was part of the effort to oust the prosecutor, but all contemporaneous evidence proves that he was far from alone, so the notion that pushing the prosecutor out was all about Joe Biden has absolutely no evidence (that’s not to say that Hunter Biden being given a board seat by a Ukrainian oil oligarch the same year Hunter was discharged from the Navy over cocaine—and the same year that Russia invaded Ukraine—isn’t a problem, but that’s a very different story than the one that Trump and Giuliani are trying to spin).
Here is where this really gets impeachable: prior to the phone call, Trump withheld about $400 million in military aid pledged to the Ukrainian armed forces who are fighting the Russian-backed separatists invading their eastern flank. Just earlier this month, $250 million Trump was holding up finally was released as well. A whistleblower reported that something untoward happened in this conversation with the Ukrainian President, and after the complaint was verified as extremely credible by the intelligence community's inspector general, well…the law states that the Director of National Intelligence must forward the complaint to Congress. Trump's new DNI did not, stating they were ordered not to—which, given the very few number of positions above it in the executive branch organizational chart, means the order almost surely came from the Oval Office.
Tl;dr—Trump very likely blackmailed a key ally using the U.S. military (destroying yet more global trust in our armed forces and making future operations more difficult and more deadly) and taxpayer money (at least $650 million), in an attempt to coerce the Ukrainian government into fabricating a criminal charge against a former United States Vice President. When Trump was caught, he almost surely ordered his Director of National Intelligence to break the law and hide a presidential violation of the Constitution from Congress.
The term you're looking for here is quid pro quo, and an order to the DNI could be construed as an acknowledgement of guilt. If we are truly a nation of laws, we cannot let this stand, and this is why impeachment has unfurled so quickly. While the ground seemed to shift under everyone's feet in the Democratic House majority overnight, on a relative basis, we were temporarily teleported to a completely different dimension in the Republican universe.
This is a non-binding resolution and the GOP is still the GOP, so all the usual caveats apply. No one should trust this party until they cast a vote, and even then, still be skeptical. But they did vote on something pretty black and white. Unanimously. Mere hours after Trump pledged to release the transcript of the call to the Ukrainian president. This is a message from Senate Republicans to President Trump:
Do not $&%# with us. You may own our voters, but now that Speaker Pelosi has kick-started this process, we own your fate.
Mid-column update: I began writing this article shortly after the GOP vote around 4:30 pm EST, and because Trump is a big giant baby who loses every single negotiation he enters into, he caved by 7 pm EST and announced that the White House will release the full whistleblower complaint that they spent so much time trying to hide from Congress.
Senate Republicans have put up with a lot from President Trump. Ted Cruz phone-banked for a man who called his wife ugly and said his dad killed JFK. Ben Sasse went from dedicating his days to building an anti-Trumpism brand to seemingly giving up his Senate job to some guy named James while hiding in his office and turning his book title into a literal autobiography. Lindsey Graham seems to have lived several different lives in the last few years—most of them spent slobbering all over Dear Leader's boots. And yet, in one unanimous vote, all these empty suits serving power reminded us that a handful of events from history may inform us as to where the fever may break in Congress' present hyper-partisanship, and it actually makes a lot of sense where the line in the sand seems to exist.
Simply put, do not come for Congress's power. It's a co-equal branch, lest ye forget.
Congress is fine abandoning their power, but when president's take it, it's a whole different ballgame. The actual war hawks on the right are no doubt incensed at Trump's attempt to sever Congress's normal communications with the intelligence community. Trump really may have reached a new frontier in his relationship with the GOP Senate with this latest move.
This vote doesn't prove Republicans care that Trump tried to leverage the military and taxpayer money in order to frame a political opponent in a sham criminal investigation. In fact, their quick defense of him over impeachment can only be viewed as an endorsement of blackmail, but it does prove that when a president tries to remove a power given to Congress—especially when it comes to control over the military—Republicans won't hesitate to vote in lockstep with Democrats if it means protecting their own constitutional powers. That's the substantive message being sent to the White House with this vote, and it's a hell of a lot more substantive than their defense of the White House's conduct.
We are in a new world as it pertains to President Trump, and he is a bit more alienated than he was just a few days ago. Impeachment is a legislative thermonuclear weapon, and Nancy Pelosi finally deploying it has put Senate Republicans on the defense in front of the most unpopular president in polling history a year before an election. It is far too early to deduce what is actually happening right now—let alone come to any firm determination as to where this is going—and while plenty of folks are quick to point out how impeachment is not a slam-dunk move (most polling puts it around 35 to 40% pro-impeachment, about 50% anti, and around 10% “I don’t know”), when we place ourselves on a Nixonian timeline, it is clear that the public is far more out in front of this issue than we were the last time that a Republican President faced impeachment hearings.
Jacob Weindling is a writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.