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Discomfort grows among Trump proponents amid Ukraine scandal

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US President Donald Trump is facing an impeachment inquiry in the US Congress as Republican lawmakers are having second thoughts about defending him. (Photo by AFP)

US Republican lawmakers are reportedly showing signs of discomfort in face of President Donald Trump’s intensifying impeachment battle with rival Democratic legislators, even though they still display general support for the country’s embattled president.

The battle over Trump's actions toward Ukraine marks the biggest test to date for Republicans, who are juggling the president’s demand for loyalty with questions about his push for a foreign government to investigate a political rival.

While the Republicans have largely rallied behind Trump against the Democrats' impeachment push, there are growing indications of cracks just days into the scandal that will likely dominate US politics for the rest of the year, according to a report on Saturday by the US-based The Hill news outlet.

This is while the Republican MPs find themselves juggling with the US president’s demand for loyalty versus his controversial efforts to compel a foreign government to probe a political opponent.  

The harshest GOP criticism, unsurprisingly, is coming from a group of Republican pundits, 2020 presidential rivals and GOP governors who have less to lose than their congressional counterparts by challenging Trump. 

Former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh, who plans to run against Trump for the Republican Party’s 2020 presidential nomination, said during a Friday interview with CNN that it was “quite literally like he (Trump) is giving his middle finger to the American people.”

Another GOP 2020 presidential hopeful, former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, also described Trump’s actions on Ukraine as “grounds for removal from office.” 

Moreover, two Republican governors – Phil Scott of Vermont and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts – have also pledged their support for an impeachment inquiry about the US president, with Baker describing the allegations against Trump as a “deeply disturbing situation,” insisting that it was “the proper role and responsibility for Congress at this point is to investigate it.” 

Other prominent Republican senators have also expressed serious concerns about Trump’s latest controversy, with Utah Senator and GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney describing it as “troubling” and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski saying the president’s phone call to his Ukrainian counterpart was “very concerning.”

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse also warned fellow Republicans – after viewing the whistleblower complaint – against “rushing to circle the wagons to say there’s nothing when there’s obviously lots that’s very troubling there.”

However according to the report, some Republicans have also suggested that members of the party are merely standing by Trump “not because they support him but because they are afraid of a high-profile break with the president, who is known for relishing public feuds and lashing out at his critics.”

The report further cited Romney as suggesting that the reason that many of his fellow Republican lawmakers were refusing to criticize Trump was that they were making a political calculation, adding: “There's such enormous power associated with being the party in power, both in the White House as well as in the Senate and the House.”

Justifying their silence, Romney also emphasized: “I think it’s very natural for people to look at circumstances and see them in the light that’s most amenable to their maintaining power and doing things to preserve that power.” 

Meanwhile, Republican Congressman Mark Amodei of Nevada, became the first GOP member of the Democratic Party-controlled House of Representative to support an impeachment inquiry, though he made it clear he does not back impeachment itself.

Furthermore, when the No. 2 Senate Republican member from South Dakota, John Thune, was asked about Trump’s pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to help dig up dirt on his potential 2020 opponent Joe Biden, he said he didn’t “like seeing that.”

Senator Thune then added: “I just think the idea of a conversation like that,” he said. “I know this president operates in different ways ... but you know, obviously, like I said before, it's not something I would bring up. But at least the suggestion about what was proposed there … is still not some place I would go.” 

Even as Trump has dismissed the whistleblower complaint as a "witch hunt" and referred to his call with Zelensky as "perfect," the US Senate unanimously passed a resolution on Friday asking for him to turn the complaint over, and the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee has already begun its own probe into the matter. 

This is while the indications of Republican wariness about aligning too closely with Trump come despite the fact that most Republicans still continue to argue that House Democrats are overplaying their hand by starting the formal impeachment proceedings, challenging the validity of the whistleblower behind the complaint, and even floating the idea of investigating former Vice President Joe Biden or his son Hunter Biden. 

GOP Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin described the partial transcript a “nothing burger,” as Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina suggested the whistleblower complaint was “hearsay.” Even Texas GOP Senator John Cornyn questioned if individuals who shared information with the whistleblower were leaking classified information.

Over 300 ex-US officials endorse Trump impeachment inquiry

The development came has more than 300 national security professionals with experience in the US military, State Department, and intelligence communities have said in a letter that the growing Trump-Ukraine scandal is a "profound national security concern," adding that an impeachment inquiry would "ascertain additional facts" as to whether the president committed an abuse of power.

"President Trump appears to have leveraged the authority and resources of the highest office in the land to invite additional foreign interference into our democratic processes," added the letter, organized by an institution called National Security Action.

"That would constitute an unconscionable abuse of power. It also would represent an effort to subordinate America's national interests — and those of our closest allies and partners — to the President's personal political interest," it further underlined.

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