Impeachment: How GOP Congressmen Used Trump’s Unhinged Letter as Talking Points

Rep. Steve Scalise, La., at the House of Representatives debate on articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, Dec. 18, 2019. (Photo: Screenshot from video of the proceedings)

On the day before the House of Representatives’ historic vote to impeach President Donald Trump for soliciting foreign interference in a U.S. election, you’ll recall that the president sent a missive full of invective, accusations and false narrative to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leaving many pundits to scratch their heads, pondering the point of the ploy, which clearly had no chance of leading the speaker to abandon the impeachment proceedings.

Some wrote it off as a tantrum; others understandably saw it merely as a means of further rallying Trump’s base. What it really was, however, was a set of talking points to be telegraphed, via mass media, to Republican members of Congress for use as they engaged in the floor debate that would precede the vote on the articles of impeachment presented by the Democrats.

Below is a mere sampling of how the points presented in Trump’s heat-seeking missive were served up by his GOP acolytes during the debate, which we offer for the demonstration of one mechanism by which the gaslighting narratives that shape the universe occupied by Trump and his fans manifest themselves.

We begin our list with the reading of a resolution, ultimately tabled, that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy introduced on the floor just before debate commenced on the articles of impeachment. All other quotations from members of Congress were uttered during the debate. Items that appear in block-quoted form are extracted from the president’s Dec. 17 letter to Pelosi.

The talking points
From the Trump letter, in which he repeats a mischaracterization of remarks made by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff during a Sept. 26 committee hearing, which Schiff prefaced with the caveat that he was conveying “the essence of what the president communicates”—in other words, not a direct quotation.:
Congressman Adam Schiff cheated and lied all the way up to the present day, even going so far as to fraudulently make up, out of thin air, my conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine and read this fantasy language to Congress as though it were said by me.  His shameless lies and deceptions, dating all the way back to the Russia Hoax, is one of the main reasons we are here today.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, House minority leader, reading a resolution offered by Republicans that was subsequently tabled: “On September 26, 2019, in his opening statement at a public hearing, Chairman Schiff engaged in a false retelling of the July 25, 2019 telephone conversation between President Trump and President Zelensky.” (Source: C-SPAN)

  • From the Trump letter:
    This impeachment represents an unprecedented and unconstitutional abuse of power by Democrat Lawmakers.

    Rep. Tom McClintock, Calif.: “This is a stunning abuse of power and a shameless travesty of justice that will stain the reputations of those responsible for generations to come.” (Source: The New York Times.)

  • From the Trump letter:
    Before the Impeachment Hoax, it was the Russian Witch Hunt.  Against all evidence, and regardless of the truth, you and your deputies claimed that my campaign colluded with the Russians—a grave, malicious, and slanderous lie, a falsehood like no other … History will judge you harshly as you proceed with this impeachment charade. Your legacy will be that of turning the House of Representatives from a revered legislative body into a Star Chamber of partisan persecution.

    Rep. Ralph Abraham, La.: “What is shameful that is that Speaker Pelosi has allowed this political witch hunt and we should remove her from the House. The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, is that they know so much that isn’t so. Democratic extreme partisanship will set a dangerous precedent for this nation. And mark my words, Madam Speaker, this sinister attempt to remove this lawful president will not go unnoticed.” (Source: C-SPAN)

  • From the Trump letter:
    As you know very well, this impeachment drive has nothing to do with Ukraine, or the totally appropriate conversation I had with its new president.  It only has to do with your attempt to undo the election of 2016 and steal the election of 2020!

    Rep. Mike Conaway, Tex.: “This impeachment scheme is nothing more than an attempt to conduct a taxpayer funded opposition research and damage the President’s electability heading into 2020.” (Source: transcript of ABC News video)

  • From the Trump letter:
    The second claim, so-called “Obstruction of Congress,” is preposterous and dangerous.

    Rep. Steve Scalise, La.: “Now let’s talk about ‘obstruction of Congress,’ as they make up these terms to impeach a president.” (Source: C-SPAN[Editor’s note: “Obstruction of Congress” was the title of one of the four articles of impeachment drawn up against President Richard M. Nixon.]

  • From the Trump letter:
    I said to President Zelensky:  “I would like you to do us a favor, though, because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it.”  I said do us a favor, not me, and our country, not a campaign.  I then mentioned the Attorney General of the United States.

    Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Wis.: “The phone call in question had the president say, ‘Our country has been through a lot. I want you to do us a favor.’ Not ‘me’ a favor—’us’ a favor. And there he was referring to our country, the United States of America, not a personal, political gain.” (Source: transcript of video from ABC News)

  • From the Trump letter:
    More due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials…This is nothing more than an illegal, partisan attempted coup that will, based on recent sentiment, badly fail at the voting booth.

    Rep. Mike Rogers, Ala.: “The matter before the House today is based solely on a fundamental hatred of our president. It’s a sham, a witch hunt and is tantamount to a coup against the duly elected president of the United States.” (Source: C-SPAN)