Mick Mulvaney’s quid pro quo has put Republicans in a bind.
White House officials knew almost immediately that President Trump’s acting chief of staff had opened a whole new controversy when he said military aid to Ukraine had been put on hold this summer to pressure Kiev to investigate the president’s theory that Ukraine — not Russia — was behind the 2016 election interference. Mr. Mulvaney tried to clean it up hours later and deny what everyone saw — that he said there was a quid pro quo.
The fallout might be beginning.
Representative Francis Rooney, Republican of Florida, told reporters on Friday that he was “shocked that he said that stuff” and said that Mr. Mulvaney’s remarks could not easily be walked back.
“It’s not an Etch-a-Sketch,” he said, miming the gesture that erases the toy board.
“I want to get the facts and do the right thing,” he told reporters, “because I’ll be looking at my children a lot longer than I’m looking at anybody in this building.”
Mr. Rooney served as ambassador to the Holy See for George W. Bush and may be sensitive to White House efforts that ran roughshod over the diplomatic corps.
But he was not alone.
“You don’t hold up foreign aid that we had previously appropriated for a political initiative,” Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska and a famously cautious congressional veteran, told reporters on Capitol Hill Thursday afternoon. “Period.”
Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, told CNN that Mr. Mulvaney’s words were “quite concerning.” He made clear he was not sure what Mr. Mulvaney was saying the president wanted Ukraine to investigate, but if it had anything to do with Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son, Hunter Biden, that would be serious, “because it would be, if it’s true, taxpayer-funded aid and policy for political reasons, which is totally wrong.”
Mr. Mulvaney actually said the aid was not held up for a Biden-related investigation, but for an investigation of discredited allegations that a Ukrainian company had a computer server that contained Hillary Clinton’s purloined emails.
Mulvaney shifts to damage control.
In damage-control mode, Mr. Mulvaney will bring a group of Republican lawmakers to Camp David this weekend for a confab. Among those invited, Representatives Elise Stefanik of New York and Rodney Davis of Illinois, both of whom occupy potentially swing districts.
And who could blame him? It could not have been comforting when Sean Hannity, Mr. Trump’s friend and favorite conservative commentator, told his radio audience that the acting chief of staff is “dumb.”
“What is Mulvaney even talking about? I just think he’s dumb, I really do. I don’t even think he knows what he’s talking about. That’s my take on it,” Mr. Hannity said.
Mulvaney loyalists who served with him in the hard-line House Freedom Caucus remained steadfast on Friday. Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina, said he called Mr. Mulvaney Friday morning to discuss the remarks. He declined to say what he told Mr. Mulvaney, but insisted that his initial claim of a quid pro quo was wrong.
“You asked me if I thought he was incorrect,” Mr. Meadows said. “I don’t think he’s incorrect. I know he’s incorrect. There’s a big difference.”
Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio and another Freedom Caucus founder, first blamed the media for taking his friend out of context, then said Mr. Mulvaney’s remarks were incorrect.
“We know from the call transcript itself, there was no linkage,” he said, repeating the talking point that was damaged badly by Mr. Mulvaney: “There was no quid pro quo.”
Are the politics of impeachment shifting?
Since Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared the opening of an impeachment inquiry, Republicans have taken it on faith that the push to impeach the president would be a political loser for Democrats, especially in swing House districts.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is circulating a memo saying, in effect, not to worry.
“The numbers do not back up Republicans’ posture that impeachment worsens the political environment for House Democrats,” a pollster for the House Democrats’ campaign arm wrote. “National polling conducted by the DCCC finds voters back a Democrat who supports an impeachment investigation over a Republican who opposes an impeachment investigation by 11 points. Even in the 57 most competitive battleground districts, moving the inquiry forward is slightly favorable at 49-48. Additionally, Democrats’ lead in the generic ballot remains steady in national polling (+8 average) and in battleground districts (+3 average).”
In swing districts, those numbers might feel uncomfortably tight. So the committee is offering up some advice:
1. When discussing Trump’s actions, keep the language simple, direct and values-based: President Trump abused his power and put himself above the law when he asked the Ukrainian President to interfere in the U.S. election.
2. Emphasize the core value that no one is above the law. Incumbent members who support the inquiry are simply working to uphold the rule of law and Republicans who oppose the inquiry are failing to fulfill their oath of office.
3. The whistle-blower did the right thing by coming forward — members of Congress have a duty to protect this person, and Trump is wrong to threaten this person and impugn their character or motives.
4. Demonstrate your constant focus on the biggest issues facing families in the country, specifically health care and wages. These issues continue to outrank impeachment as priorities for voters, especially swing voters.
Catch up on impeachment: What you need to know about the inquiry.
President Trump repeatedly pressured President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to investigate people and issues of political concern to Mr. Trump, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Here’s a timeline of events since January.
A C.I.A. officer who was once detailed to the White House filed a whistle-blower complaint on Mr. Trump’s interactions with Mr. Zelensky. Read the complaint.