Republican reps have little to say on impeachment

Political notebook

While House leaders ramp up the impeachment process against President Donald Trump, congressional Republicans have responded with a mix of silence and swift dismissal.

Democratic leaders launched an impeachment inquiry last week, and events have moved quickly since then: The White House released a partial transcript of a key phone call with the Ukrainian president, an envoy to the nation stepped down and members of Congress have planned interviews and subpoenas for several Trump allies.

Local Republicans initially dismissed the process as a politically motivated attack — echoing Trump himself, who has called the impeachment process part of a yearslong “witch hunt.”

In a statement last week, freshman Rep. John Joyce, R-13th District, suggested the House’s time would be better spent on border policing and military issues.

“Time and again, House Democrats have proven that they prioritize endless investigations over meaningful legislation — always to the detriment of the American people,” Joyce said. “Rather than squander the balance of the 116th Congress on politically-motivated impeachment proceedings, I encourage House Democrats to remember their commitment to serve those whom they represent.”

Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-15th District, didn’t address the content of the inquiry or of Trump’s phone call. In a brief statement, he named impeachment (alongside Supreme Court term limits) as a “socialist idea.”

The inquiry surrounds a phone call Trump had with Ukraine’s recently elected president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. After discussing the military aid the U.S. sends the eastern European nation, Trump asked his counterpart to investigate Hunter Biden — the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump in 2020.

Impeachment advocates have said Trump was pressuring a foreign leader to investigate a U.S. citizen for political reasons — an offense that could be punished with removal from office.

That outcome remains deeply unlikely, especially as Senate Republicans rally around the president. If the House formally impeaches the president, the Senate must vote to remove him, and many GOP senators would have to back the effort.

In a statement after Trump released a partial transcript of the Ukrainian phone call, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said he sees little evidence of a crime.

“The memorandum released by the White House today reveals no quid pro quo,” he said in a two-sentence statement. “While the conversation reported in the memorandum relating to alleged Ukrainian corruption and Vice President Biden’s son was inappropriate, it does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.”

Pennsylvania’s Democratic Party mocked Toomey’s remarks, calling him “No Backbone Toomey” (schoolyard nicknames have fast taken root in the impeachment fight, with Trump labeling prominent Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. “Liddle” Adam Schiff).

After officials released the complaint from a White House whistleblower that launched the investigation, many Senate Republicans said they hadn’t read or seen the document and declined to comment in detail, the Wall Street Journal noted.

While Republican leaders have responded with terse replies and non-statements, Democrats in Congress have been far more willing to talk. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., issued a 2,700-word statement backing impeachment, compared to about 70 words from Toomey.

“The recent revelation that President Trump pressured a foreign government to investigate his political opponents is a textbook case of abuse of power which demands action. … Given this clear abuse of power, I believe I have an obligation to outline the conduct, both during the Russian investigation and the Ukraine matter, that is within the well-established definition of the ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ that the Senate would consider in an impeachment trial,” Casey said.

The fast-moving case is set to continue this week, with Democrats issuing their first congressional subpoena and hinting at more to come. While at least one House Republican has joined them so far in backing an impeachment investigation, the inquiry remains an almost totally partisan affair.

Wolf backs first marijuana steps

A statewide campaign culminated last week with a formal call by Gov. Tom Wolf for the General Assembly to consider legalizing marijuana.

Accompanying Wolf, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman said Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly support legalizing recreational use of the drug, which is legal in many states but remains banned under federal law. While Pennsylvania is growing its nascent medical marijuana industry, it remains illegal here — although a patchwork of local policies and ordinances means its use is largely tolerated in some cities.

While the Republicans who control the General Assembly legalized the drug for medical use, leaders appear to consider recreational use a step too far.

“Our caucus has no plans or interest in legalizing recreational marijuana,” GOP leaders said in a statement to reporters.

In announcing their marijuana plan last week, Wolf and Fetterman said more steps are needed: a bill to decriminalize minor cannabis offenses, for one, as well as restorative programs for those punished under existing drug laws.

After that, they said, the General Assembly should seriously consider ending the ban entirely.

“We now know the majority of Pennsylvanians are in favor of legalization, and that includes me,” Wolf said.