WASHINGTON — Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., took issue Thursday with President Donald Trump urging China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son’s business dealings there.
“Hold up: Americans don’t look to Chinese commies for the truth,” Sasse said in a written statement to The World-Herald. “If the Biden kid broke laws by selling his name to Beijing, that’s a matter for American courts, not communist tyrants running torture camps.”
At the same time, Sasse also offered harsh words for Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. During a hearing last week, Schiff referred to the rough transcript of a phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Schiff presented “the essence of what the president communicates” during the call and spoke as if he were Trump asking Zelensky to manufacture dirt on his political opponent.
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While Schiff defenders say it was clear that he wasn’t providing the president’s exact words, critics have slammed him for spreading misinformation by making up misleading quotes and putting them in Trump’s mouth.
“Congressman Schiff is running a partisan clown show in the House — that’s his right because the Constitution doesn’t prohibit clown shows, but fortunately, in the Senate, we’re working to follow the facts one step at a time,” Sasse said.
A member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sasse has previously said there is “terrible stuff” in that rough transcript of the call between Trump and Zelensky. But he has also urged both parties to slow down and get all the information before landing on a final verdict.
Each new day — sometimes each new hour — brings fresh developments in the impeachment saga.
The president’s Thursday comments drew condemnation from Democrats who said Trump is now publicly encouraging foreign powers to interfere in U.S. elections.
They suggested that he’s doing so in the hope that evidence that he’s encouraged such interference privately won’t seem so bad.
But Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., rejected those suggestions.
“It’s saying ‘Hey did he do something wrong? Let us know,’ ” Bacon said of Trump’s statements about China and Biden. “I don’t condone it. ... I wouldn’t do it. But I don’t think that’s messing with our elections.”
Bacon highlighted another revelation that many Republicans have seized upon this week — a New York Times report that Schiff got an early account of concerns by the whistleblower who filed a complaint about the president’s activities.
Republicans have also cited a letter that a trio of senior Senate Democrats sent to Ukrainian prosecutors.
In that letter, the senators expressed concern about a New York Times report that Ukraine was effectively freezing various investigations related to the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Ukraine was allegedly doing so because it was worried that such investigations could jeopardize U.S. military aid.
Some Republicans have characterized the correspondence as evidence that Democrats were themselves seeking dirt on Trump from foreign countries.
“For the Democrats to have outrage, it’s selective,” Bacon said. “They were doing the same things.”
Democrats say the letter simply shows that they were worried that Trump would do exactly what he did — use military aid to pressure Ukraine’s leaders into helping him politically.
Bacon also said House Democrats are acting unfairly by moving forward with an impeachment inquiry without a formal vote. Such a vote would start a process that gives Republicans more rights, he said.
But Bacon added that he would vote against the impeachment inquiry because he doesn’t think the president has broken any laws.
“It’s wrong, but it’s not necessarily a law being broken,” he said.
Other Nebraska Republicans have tried to turn the discussion away from impeachment, citing the need to address farm policy or the pending trade deal known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
“We need to calmly and rationally assess the facts, and not give in to a politically driven frenzy,” Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said in a statement Thursday. “I’m focused on working with President Trump on issues that are important to Nebraskans, such as relief to ethanol producers and our agricultural communities, and passage of the USMCA.”
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., said that the Justice Department hasn’t found a violation of the law by the president and that Congress needs “less drama, more work.”
And Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., describes impeachment as a distraction from important issues.
Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, both Iowa Republicans, have criticized the House impeachment push.
But Grassley did issue a statement early this week standing up for the rights of the whistleblower in the case. Grassley said that person appears to have followed the laws and ought to be protected.
“No one should be making judgments or pronouncements without hearing from the whistleblower first and carefully following up on the facts,” he said. “Uninformed speculation wielded by politicians or media commentators as a partisan weapon is counterproductive and doesn’t serve the country.”