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Why Some Republicans Think Impeachment Inquiry May Help Trump

NOEL KING, HOST:

Since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she was launching an impeachment inquiry into President Trump on Tuesday, most Republicans have rallied around the president. But at least one Republican senator is concerned - Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Here he is talking to reporters yesterday after reading the whistleblower complaint that kicked off this whole thing in the first place.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BEN SASSE: Democrats ought not to be using the word impeach before they had - had the whistleblower complaint or read any of the transcripts. Republicans ought not to be rushing to circle the wagons and say there's no there there when there's obviously lots that's very troubling there. The administration ought not be attacking the whistleblower, as some talking points suggest they plan to do.

KING: Ben Domenech is the publisher of the conservative online magazine The Federalist. He also hosts "The Fray" on SiriusXM, and he's in studio. Thanks for coming in.

BEN DOMENECH: Good to be with you.

KING: OK. So Ben Sasse is basically saying, everyone hold your horses until we know more. What do you think about that?

DOMENECH: I think that, once again, Senator Sasse is just sort of holding his hands up in a Washington experience that is not used to holding back the horses at all.

KING: OK.

DOMENECH: And I think in this case, he's going to be unable to do so. In fact, the real push, the conversation within the Democratic side right now is one that wants to push forward as rapidly as possible because they believe that they have a little bit of momentum on this and they're worried that that might dissipate.

KING: You've written that you're pleased to see this impeachment inquiry move forward. Why is that?

DOMENECH: I think that one of the things we need to appreciate about this inquiry is that it's been hanging around for a long time and impeachment is ultimately a political question, not a legal one.

We saw the most recent vote, for instance, on impeachment was actually kicked off by the president's tweets about the Squad. And the Congress has the power to impeach the president for any number of reasons. In this case, there's been a lot of push on the Democratic side to proceed forward. It's got the support now of Elizabeth Warren and of Joe Biden himself. And I think that this is going to be kind of a clarifying moment for our politics after years of this kind of burgeoning support for impeachment on the Democratic side.

KING: You want to see clarity. Do you also think that this is going - that this inquiry is going to help President Trump politically?

DOMENECH: I think that the president believes that it will, and I think that there's some around him who believe that it will. They look at the polls, and they see a situation where there's actually less support now than there was for impeachment about a year ago. And they also look at a scenario where independent voters, in particular, are turned off by impeachment. They may not like the president themselves, but they're not ready to see him removed from office.

Now, that also cuts to the point here that basically, according to most of the research that's been done, a lot of the American people equate impeachment with removal from office, when in reality, as you know, the likelihood of the president being removed by a Republican-majority Senate is very low at this point.

KING: You refer to polls a lot. Have any of those polls come out since yesterday?

DOMENECH: No polls have come out since yesterday...

KING: OK.

DOMENECH: ...Of course. And so it's very possible that the American people will change their minds. But it's going to be a difficult thing, I think, going into 2020 with these investigations and impeachment as, really, the only thing that is the focus of the conversation, particularly for the strongest candidate taking on the president in terms of the general election, Joe Biden. We see the ascendancy of Elizabeth Warren, and we see Biden facing a situation where there's going to be a conversation around corruption and him that could play out over the next couple of months that could be very difficult to navigate.

KING: Have you read the rough transcript of the phone call where the president asked Ukraine to investigate Biden?

DOMENECH: Yes.

KING: Should the president have done that?

DOMENECH: Oh, I don't think so. But...

KING: No?

DOMENECH: ...I also don't think that that's necessarily something that rises to the level of impeachment. And I think you're going to have to make a pretty strong case to the American people that it does, particularly in the context of what we've seen from previous impeachment hearings.

In the case of Richard Nixon, obviously, it's the conspiracy, not the crime. It's the cover-up that goes around some kind of thing like this. In this case, the president releases this transcript, this - you know? - that is reconstructed and everything like that. We're going to have this whistleblower complaint, which has been declassified, to look at. And I think that that is going to create a little bit of a problem because there's not much more of a conspiracy to untangle here. The president's very blunt. He's not very subtle.

KING: Not much more that we know of, though, right?

DOMENECH: (Laughter).

KING: I mean, isn't that what Sasse was saying - is that we still have to wait to see what comes out?

DOMENECH: There's a lot that's still up in the air.

KING: OK. Ben Domenech is the publisher of The Federalist, and he's the host of "The Fray" on SiriusXM. Thanks for coming in today. We appreciate it.

DOMENECH: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.