U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, speaks during a hearing on July 12, 2019. (Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times)
Photo: ANNA MONEYMAKER/NYT
Photo: ANNA MONEYMAKER/NYT

Georgia Republicans launch defense of Trump over Ukraine call

After largely sitting on the sidelines, top Georgia Republican officials on Wednesday accused Democrats of rushing to judgment by taking the extraordinary step of supporting impeachment proceedings, even as they defended Trump’s exchange with Ukraine’s top leader.

“Democrats have again leapt to conclusions before looking at the facts,” said U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, who was summoned to the White House early Wednesday to plot strategy and review the summary of a phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “There was no quid pro quo and nothing to justify the clamor House Democrats caused yesterday.”

State Democrats said the details of the Trump-Zelensky call, which were outlined in a reconstruction released by the White House, only confirmed their deepest suspicions about Trump.

“It doesn’t have to be a quid pro quo. Attempted crimes are a crime in and of themselves,” said U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, the first Georgia congressman to back articles of impeachment on Tuesday. “What (Trump) did was attempt to violate his oath of office by trying to gin up foreign in-kind campaign contributions.”

The summary showed that Trump urged Ukraine’s leader to start corruption investigations into the family of former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic front-runner for next year’s presidential race, and reminded him that lucrative U.S. military aid has helped the country in a long-running war with Russia.

The biting back-and-forth followed a dramatic change of course from Georgia Democrats, who had largely abstained from supporting impeachment until this week’s revelations triggered a swift reversal by both elected officials and candidates.

A watershed moment came when U.S. Rep. John Lewis, an outspoken Trump critic who nonetheless had opposed impeachment, delivered a fiery speech from the well of the House pressing House Democrats to begin proceedings. “To delay or to do otherwise,” the civil rights leader said, “would betray the foundation of our democracy.”

By the day’s end, many of the state’s most prominent Democratic officials and candidates for top offices had endorsed impeachment — with a notable exception.

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath ignored questions Tuesday about whether she backed impeachment, and Republicans soon circulated a recording of her ducking the issue and polls that showed it was an unpopular in her suburban Atlanta district.

Former U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, who was defeated by McBath in November and is seeking a rematch next year, said the Democrat lacks the “courage to be honest” with her constituents to admit she “supports impeaching the president and overturning the will of the people.”

In a statement on Wednesday, McBath said that her stance hasn’t shifted since she cast a vote earlier this month that set the parameters for the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment inquiry. She said that it would help “find the facts for the American people.”

“I voted to formalize the impeachment inquiry process on September 12th,” she said, “and continue to support the responsibility of this Congress to uncover the truth and defend the Constitution.”

‘Results over resistance’

McBath’s cautious approach served as a sharp reminder of the political potency of impeachment in competitive areas where Democrats can’t just rely on liberal votes next year, but also need to woo moderates and conservatives to win election.

That also applies to the neighboring 7th Congressional District, a swath of Forsyth and Gwinnett counties where all the major Democratic contenders have now endorsed impeachment. Carolyn Bourdeaux, who narrowly lost last year’s race for the seat, announced her support for impeachment early Tuesday — and was almost immediately attacked by GOP rivals.

One of them, former Home Depot executive Lynn Homrich, quickly sought to make Bourdeaux regret her decision and earn points with conservatives. She sent a robocall haranguing the “far-left Democrat” to more than 50,000 voters in the district urging them to chip in to her campaign.

“We need to fight back,” she said, adding: “Join me in fighting for results over resistance.”

Other Republicans are destined to adopt a similar political mantra as they use the threat of impeachment to energize voters, much as they did last year when conservative voter enthusiasm soared over anger about Brett Kavanaugh’s treatment as a Supreme Court nominee. 

“The real danger here is that Democrats keep using baseless accusations in hopes of crippling a successful presidency,” said Collins, the senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee who recently applied to be appointed for Johnny Isakson’s U.S. Senate seat. He was joined at the White House by Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue and roughly a dozen other Republicans allied with the president.

Later in the day, House members voted 421-0 for a nonbinding resolution urging the Trump administration to turn over a whistleblower complaint about the Ukraine call to Congress, mirroring a unanimous vote in the Senate a day earlier.

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