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How Republicans see the impeachment inquiry

Do Republicans believe President Trump’s conversation with Ukraine’s leader warrants an impeachment inquiry? Judy Woodruff gets two perspectives from former Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Chris Buskirk of American Greatness on the potential political ramifications.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Returning now to our main story, two Republican views of the impeachment inquiry.

    We turn to former U.S. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona. He joins us tonight from Boston. And Chris Buskirk, editor of the conservative journal and Web site American Greatness, he is in Phoenix.

    Hello to both of you. We thank you for joining us on the "NewsHour"

    Senator Flake, let me start with you.

    Do you believe the — what we know about the president's conversation in that phone call with the president of Ukraine warrants this impeachment inquiry?

  • Jeff Flake:

    I do. I do. I think that that conversation, just from the transcript, not descriptions of the transcript, but the transcript itself, is damning enough to launch an inquiry. So, yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Chris Buskirk, what about you? What do you believe, based on what we know about that conversation?

  • Chris Buskirk:

    No, you know, I have read that transcript, it's got to be at least five times.

    And, no, it doesn't. And what's more is, I'm not convinced that even Nancy Pelosi thinks that it warrants it. I mean, my understanding of this is that this is really a part of the 2020 election campaign. It's not a serious attempt to remove the president from office, because nobody really believes that the Senate will convict.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, I mean, on the facts, Chris Buskirk, quickly, the facts of what was said in that conversation, President Trump asking the president of Ukraine to help with an investigation into Joe Biden, a foreign leader.

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Yes.

    No, I mean — no, that's right, because Joe Biden's — what Joe Biden did while he was vice president is highly questionable. I mean, the way he — and he's bragged about this in public, the way he threatened Ukraine with withholding a billion dollars of aid if they didn't fire a prosecutor.

    That is something that requires something looking into, if he was selling his office while vice president. And, of course, we need the assistance of the Ukrainian government to get to the bottom of what happened on their soil.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, that — that — whatever happened, it's been widely debunked, at least by all the reporting that I have seen.

    But, Senator Flake, what convinces you that this warrants an impeachment inquiry?

  • Jeff Flake:

    Well, just the pure text of it, asking a foreign leader to help investigate your — one of your main political rivals, and then not just that, but involving the State Department and your attorney general in that effort.

    That is abuse of power. Now, I don't know where this will go, this inquiry will go. It is tough to see now the votes there in the Senate. I myself don't want to see impeachment come. I'd rather see the president defeated in the next election. That would be better.

    But to say that this doesn't merit an inquiry is just ignoring the evidence there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Senator Flake, explain why you don't believe an impeachment inquiry — that the president should be impeached? You're saying it warrants an inquiry, but you think it's wrong for the Congress to pursue that. Why?

  • Jeff Flake:

    Well, the Constitution spells out the remedy in this case, but it doesn't require that the Congress impeach.

    Given how the country is split, I just hope that we don't come to that. It's very divisive in any circumstances, but where we are as a country, it will be doubly so. And I fear that the president will use it to his advantage.

    If impeachment comes, but not conviction, then it could be taken advantage of by the president. That wouldn't be good for anyone.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Chris Buskirk, you were writing in The New York Times this weekend that you also believe that for the Democrats to pursue this is going to end up helping the president politically.

  • Chris Buskirk:

    yes, I think that — I think that's exactly right.

    I mean, I look back at the last — the last two presidents who faced impeachment proceedings, and you look at back when it was Richard Nixon. The vote in the House to proceed with an impeachment inquiry, not with the ultimate impeachment — that never happened, but with the inquiry — was 410-4.

    And then when you fast-forward to the '90s, and we had — we had President Clinton, it was something like 250-178 or something like that, the point being it was a much more party-line vote at that time.

    And you look at the outcomes of those two things, and they're very, very different. And that's because impeachment is obviously very divisive. It is highly partisan. It's highly political.

    And it's an odd thing to be doing right before an election, when you have — when you have a political process playing out. And people certainly are going to look into Ukraine and all kinds of other things as voters get ready to go to the polls.

    But it seems to me that the appropriate way to pursue this is to try and win an election based on the issues. And one of the issues may be who Trump is, what he's done, what he hasn't done.

    But to pursue this now, when you're going to have a party-line vote, doesn't seem to auger welcome one's political prospects. And that's why I think it ultimately benefits the president more than it does Democrats.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Senator Flake, you have written in the last day or so that — again, that you believe the president should be removed by the voters and not by impeachment.

    And you argue, for Republicans, it's a matter of principle. But if that's the case, why isn't it a matter of principle to support impeachment?

  • Jeff Flake:

    Well, it may well be, depending on what the inquiry turns up.

    If there is just evidence coming out of additional abuse of power, it may be that Republicans can't ignore it, and we will have to go — go forward with Democrats.

    It being a partisan vote now may not hold if additional evidence comes forward. And there are a lot of subpoenas out there. There's a lot of information to be gathered, and things could change. And it could change in the Senate, where enough of my former colleagues may simply say, we have got to approach the president and do as was done in the early '70s, with Senator Goldwater and Congressman John Rhodes, and say, there's just no way out.

    It may come to that, depending on what is turned up by the inquiry.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about that, Chris Buskirk?

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Yes, it won't come to that.

    There's just absolutely no way that's happening in front of right in front of an election. Everybody's going to want to fight this out, I think, on political turf, and let voters decide.

    And, quite honestly, I think that is the — whatever comes out of any inquiry, that seems to me to be the healthiest way for the republic to decide this matter, which is, make everything public. We know it's going to come out. But then let voters decide in November of 2020 which way they want the country to go.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So — and I want you to weigh in on this, Senator Flake.

    But I guess what I'm trying to get at here, Chris Buskirk, is, if there is a place — and we don't know, at this point, if this is it — for a president to be removed by impeachment and conviction, you're saying it's — I mean, how can you be so confident that it's the wrong thing to do then?

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Is that to me or to Senator Flake?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    To you. To you.

  • Chris Buskirk:

    That's to me?

    Yes. No, I mean, look, if you — if the accusation is based — is based upon the transcript of this conversation that President Trump had with President Zelensky, that is — that is not dispositive.

    I know that there are people who believe it is. And that's fine. They can hold that political opinion. But there is a very large — there is a very large segment of the population that looks that — looks at that and says either no problem, or maybe I don't like it, but it's not an impeachable offense.

    And so you — I just don't see a realistic scenario where you get to the required votes in the Senate. And so we wind up, yes, we understand impeachment itself is a political process that plays out in Congress. But at the same time, we have — we have a deadline, November of 2020, when there's going to be an election.

    And I think that is ultimately what is going on here, which is Democrats are trying to harm the president's reputation in advance of the election. They think that they can — they think that they can undermine voters' confidence in him, and that will lead to an electoral victory, rather than an actual removal from office.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Flake, I mean, as we look at the — at the, what, next 15 months before we get to the presidential election, what is Congress' responsibility in terms of asking this president to support this impeachment inquiry, demanding documents?

    I mean, how should Congress be approaching this?

  • Jeff Flake:

    Well, first, I don't share the confidence that your other guests has that nothing will turn up.

    And it's not just what may or may not turn up. It's how the president reacts to it and reacts to this inquiry. And the evidence so far is not too well, which isn't going to give my former colleagues confidence in what might be there.

    So I think the responsibility of Congress is to do the inquiry and to look, and then to see whether or not they ought to move forward. Like I said, my preference would be to do it in the next election.

    But if it comes to it, if there's more information, then they ought to do the constitutional duty. And I wouldn't hesitate, if I were in the Senate, to do that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Former Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, Chris Buskirk, thank you both very much.

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Thank you.

  • Jeff Flake:

    Thank you.

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