President Trump on Sunday blasted the lone congressional Republican who has suggested the president has committed impeachable offenses, as party members -- even sometime critics -- closed ranks around the White House, denying that the evidence in the special counsel’s report suggests Trump acted to obstruct justice.
The president, who spent a sunny but humid Sunday at his Virginia golf course, branded Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) a “loser” for becoming the first member of his party to say that behavior laid out in Robert S. Mueller III’s report met the “threshold” for impeachment. Amash stopped short, however, of calling for impeachment proceedings to begin.
Trump also struck a combative stance toward Iran – at least on Twitter, where he sometimes makes threats against foreign adversaries that are not followed through.
“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran,” he tweeted late Sunday afternoon, after a week in which it appeared that hawkish aides like John Bolton, the national security advisor, were seeking to goad the president into military action against the Islamic Republic.
“Never threaten the United States again!” he added.
Trump’s tweet came shortly after a rocket exploded about a mile from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. In the past, Iranian-backed militias have attacked U.S. forces in Iraq. It was unclear if the rocket spurred Trump’s message.
The president, somewhat uncharacteristically, waited 19 hours to fire back at Amash on Twitter, deriding the Michigan lawmaker as “a total lightweight” and suggesting that Amash, a libertarian who frequently breaks with Republican congressional leaders, was merely courting publicity -- something that Trump, of course, provided him.
“Never a fan,” Trump wrote, calling Amash “a loser who sadly plays right into” the hands of Democrats.
In another bid to enforce party unity on a controversial topic, Trump also tweeted an implied rebuff of the sweeping abortion ban signed into law last week in Alabama. He joined other leading Republican lawmakers in repeating the long-standing party formula that abortions should be allowed in cases of rape or incest — exceptions that Alabama lawmakers refused to add to their antiabortion law.
Trump said on Twitter that while “strongly Pro-Life,” he supports those exemptions, echoing statements made in recent days by the congressional GOP leaders, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
In recent months, Republicans have sought to take political advantage of Democratic moves to liberalize abortion laws in some states, including Virginia and New York, calling the Democrats “extreme” and saying the late-term abortions that some of the laws could allow amount to “infanticide.”
The Alabama law, and similar proposals in other conservative states, could blunt that effort by putting the Republican stamp on a proposal — forbidding all abortions except to save a woman’s life — that most Americans in both parties have consistently rejected.
National party officials have moved quickly to try to reassert their position in favor of rape and incest exceptions, a formula the party has adhered to since President Reagan.
Democrats, though, already have gone on offense, mindful of Trump’s already low support among women as reflected in the 2018 midterm election. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a Democratic presidential hopeful, said Republicans, led by Trump, are waging “an all-out assault on women’s reproductive freedom.”
Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Gillibrand suggested the Alabama law and any others like it could substantially affect the 2020 vote.
“President Trump has started a war on America’s women,” she said. “And if it’s a fight he wants to have, it’s a fight he’s going to have, and he’s going to lose.”
Alabama lawmakers have said they hope their law will prompt the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. So far, however, the high court has not seemed eager to take on such a sweeping effort, although several conservative justices have seemed interested in chipping away at abortion rights.
Barr released a redacted version of the report after publicly summarizing its findings in a manner that Democrats widely described as a whitewash.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who occasionally criticizes the president, said he was “troubled” by the information contained in Mueller’s report, but that he does not believe that “impeachment is the right way to go.”
Investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, the special counsel found no criminal conspiracy between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Kremlin. Mueller laid out evidence that in several instances, Trump acted in ways that could be interpreted as intended to obstruct the investigation, but Mueller adhered to Justice Department policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
The only other remedy is impeachment proceedings, which would originate in the Democratic-controlled House.
Romney, in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said he did not believe the report contained “the full element you need to prove an obstruction of justice case.”
But Amash, in his Twitter thread on Saturday, wrote that the Mueller report “identifies multiple examples of conduct satisfying all the elements of obstruction of justice.” He added that “undoubtedly any person who is not the president of the United States would be indicted based on such evidence.”
In recent days, hundreds of prosecutors have signed an open letter making the same contention: that if Trump were a private citizen, he would be indicted.
In the wake of the release of Mueller report’s in redacted form, the Trump administration has embarked on a strategy of near-total resistance to investigations by the Democratic-controlled House, refusing to comply with subpoenas on matters including Trump’s taxes and security clearances given to White House staff, including Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has described Trump’s repeated rejection of constitutionally mandated congressional oversight as “almost self-impeaching,” but senior lawmakers in her party have followed the San Francisco Democrat’s lead in holding off on any call to start impeachment proceedings.
Democrats say there is little chance that the GOP-controlled Senate would vote to convict Trump, and that impeachment proceedings in the House might serve to galvanize his base for the 2020 election.
Pelosi said any impeachment push would need to be bipartisan in nature, which was one reason that Amash’s statement attracted considerably more attention than his other breaks with the GOP leadership.
“There is now bipartisan support,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said on “State of the Union.”
Some Democrats, however, suggested that Trump’s behavior in the aftermath of the Mueller report might ultimately prove just as damaging as the report itself. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) pointed Sunday to the administration’s “maximum obstructionism campaign” against Congress.
“I respect what Justin Amash is doing and has said – he has showed more courage than any other Republican in the House or Senate,” Schiff said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
But impeachment decisions, he said, may be driven instead by the administration’s refusal to cooperate with current congressional investigations.
“If the only way that we can do our oversight is through impeachment proceedings, then we may have to go down that road,” said Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee.