Iowans among last House Democrats to come around on impeachment

After weeks or months of avoiding public comment on the topic, all three Iowa Democrats in the U.S. House expressed support for a formal impeachment inquiry on September 24, the same day House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced, “I’m directing our six committees to proceed with their investigations under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry.”

Since early June, Bleeding Heartland has periodically sought comment from U.S. Representatives Abby Finkenauer (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02), and Cindy Axne (IA-03) about their views on impeachment. Why were they not among the dozens of House colleagues who had called for an inquiry? Were there any circumstances in which they might support one later? Or were they ready to rule out taking any step toward impeachment before the 2020 elections?

Staff for Finkenauer and Loebsack never provided any statements clarifying their positions. Axne outlined her thoughts on the issue in an interview with Bleeding Heartland in early July, saying she wanted the House to pursue the various committee investigations underway. “And then if we can’t get where we need to go with those legal parameters, then we may have to look at that [impeachment] process.”

As the whistleblower scandal unfolded during the past week, and more House Democrats publicly called for impeachment every day, I circled back with the Congressional offices. Had the representatives changed their minds in light of confirmation that President Donald Trump pressured his Ukrainian counterpart to provide political assistance? Staff for Finkenauer, Loebsack, and Axne either did not respond or had no comment for the record.

News releases from Loebsack and Finkenauer on September 23 addressed the whistleblower complaint without indicating whether the House members were ready to pursue impeachment. From Finkenauer:

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer (IA-01) released the following statement in response to the recently revealed whistleblower complaint regarding President Trump’s communications with Ukrainian leaders:

“This is not where we should be and not what we deserve from the leader of our country. I continue to support the work of my colleagues on the designated House Committees that are doing their jobs and investigating this situation and other attacks on our democracy. We must continue these important investigations and get all the facts. While they do their work, I’ll continue fighting for Iowa’s hard working families who deserve a government that gets things done while at the same time holding those who hurt us accountable.”

From Loebsack:

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Dave Loebsack released the following statement today in response to the recently revealed whistle blower complaint that was made against President Trump after his apparent attempt to pressure Ukraine into investigating the son of former Vice President Biden by threatening to withhold military support.

“The allegations surrounding President Trump’s call with Ukrainian officials, if proven correct, are game changing regarding the President’s abuse of power. Making a call to pressure a foreign leader to dig up dirt on a potential political rival, while threatening to withhold military assistance, is unacceptable. If the President, as he has said, has nothing to hide, then he should immediately release the transcript of the call and the whistle blower’s full complaint should be immediately conveyed to Congress as laid out in statute. It is imperative that Congress and the American people have all of the facts surrounding the President’s call. The rule of law requires no less.

“The President and his administration continue to stonewall any investigations, including refusing to release the full Mueller report on Russia’s interference in our elections. I look forward to hearing from the Director of National Intelligence later this week. I remain hopeful he will provide all relevant information in order for Congress to make an informed decision.”

Meanwhile, the number of House Democrats calling for an inquiry surpassed 160. Seven first-termers–some from vulnerable districts–co-authored a guest column for the Washington Post stating,

To uphold and defend our Constitution, Congress must determine whether the president was indeed willing to use his power and withhold security assistance funds to persuade a foreign country to assist him in an upcoming election.

If these allegations are true, we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense. We do not arrive at this conclusion lightly, and we call on our colleagues in Congress to consider the use of all congressional authorities available to us, including the power of “inherent contempt” and impeachment hearings, to address these new allegations, find the truth and protect our national security.

Early in the day on September 24, news leaked that Pelosi was ready to announce a formal inquiry. Axne’s office released this statement at 2:44 pm:

“When I was sworn into office, I took an oath under God to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Using the Oval Office to pressure a foreign leader to investigate a political opponent is a clear abuse of power. Beyond an abuse of power, allegations that the President threatened to leverage U.S. taxpayer dollars to extort a foreign government, if true, constitute an unequivocal violation of our federal laws and the U.S. Constitution I swore to defend.

“For the sake of our national security and our democracy, these serious allegations require independent Congressional investigation unobstructed by this Administration. Congress has a responsibility to uphold the rule of law and to take appropriate steps to open an impeachment inquiry.

“If the President, as he has said, has nothing to hide, then he should allow the whistle blower to provide the full complaint to House and Senate Intelligence Committees. I look forward to reviewing the full transcript of the President’s call tomorrow and hearing from the Acting Director of National Intelligence later this week, where I expect him to provide all relevant information so Congress can make an informed decision.”

A written statement from Loebsack followed at 4:21 pm, shortly after Pelosi delivered her remarks at a news conference.

“I have felt the need to proceed judiciously given the high constitutional requirements of impeachment, but President Trump’s actions and obstruction require this step of establishing an impeachment inquiry. It is unfortunate that we have ended up at this point. The American people deserve the full truth and it has reached the point where there is no other way to get the necessary information and an impeachment inquiry is justified.”

Finally, a new statement from Finkenauer hit the in-box at 6:13 pm:

“I have always supported Congress and our House committees in defending our democracy and Constitution. The impeachment inquiry requested today is needed to continue that work. It’s imperative we stand up for our country and hold those accountable who hurt our democracy.

Whether Republican or Democrat, there’s no question that a president who threatens a foreign leader and our national security for their own personal gain, and uses taxpayer dollars, to do it is not upholding their constitutional responsibilities.

While the appropriate committees do their work, I will not be distracted from my top priorities of continuing to uplift the needs of Iowans, as we’ve been doing from day one, focusing on common sense solutions to lower the cost of prescription drugs, bringing much needed investment to our crumbling infrastructure, and having the backs of our farmers left behind by an administration that values big oil over renewable fuels. We must stay focused and we must continue to do our jobs to move our country forward.”

It’s good to see Iowa’s representatives on board with an impeachment inquiry, finally. I wish they had been more willing to explain their thinking on this salient national issue earlier.

P.S.- Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, the self-styled patron saint of whistleblowers, warned against media “speculation” about the latest Trump scandal in a September 23 statement. After Pelosi moved toward impeachment the following day, Grassley said in a news release,

“The president said he will release tomorrow the full, unclassified transcript of his phone call with the Ukrainian president. That level of transparency is extraordinary from any White House. The leadership of the Senate intelligence committee is also working to do its part and hear from the alleged whistleblower and intelligence officials.

“Unfortunately, instead of waiting to learn the facts by reviewing that transcript or hearing from the whistleblower, Democrats have moved straight to starting the impeachment process. Democrats have been searching for any reason to impeach President Trump since his inauguration because they couldn’t accept the results of the 2016 election.

“This all reeks of hypocrisy considering former Vice President Joe Biden has already said he used his office and taxpayer dollars to pressure Ukraine’s president into taking specific law enforcement actions that directly benefited his son. The attention on unverified reports instead of an on-record admission shows why Americans are so distrustful of politicians and the media.

“If Democrats use impeachment proceedings as a basis to not act on policy that will directly benefit Americans like the USMCA or lowering prescription drug prices, that would prove they’re more interested in politics and opposing the president at all costs than serving the American people. For my part, I’ll continue focusing on the issues that affect the everyday lives of Iowans. I hope my Democrat colleagues return to doing the same for their constituents.”

Keep in mind, this guy voted to remove President Bill Clinton from office for lying about a sexual relationship with an intern.

Senator Joni Ernst avoided comment on this story last week, trying to keep the focus on wasteful federal government spending instead. On September 24, Paige Godden reported for Iowa Starting Line, Ernst “took to the Senate floor Tuesday morning to talk about tater tots and Foosball tables as the entire political world discussed impending impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.”

The written statement Ernst released later in the day was a classic attempt at misdirection.

“House Democrats have spent more than two years—since the morning of November 9, 2016—engaging in antics to undermine President Trump. The fact that they are pushing for impeachment is no surprise, as their motives have always been crystal clear. The Senate Intelligence Committee, in a thoughtful and bipartisan manner, is doing its job and looking into the claims by the whistleblower, and I support that effort. Shame on the House Democrats if they use impeachment as an excuse to play politics instead of focusing on issues that affect the livelihoods of Iowans across our state.”

The opposite is true. Pelosi has spent months trying to avoid launching an impeachment inquiry, fearful that the move could hurt Democrats in battleground districts. Finkenauer, Loebsack, and Axne have not been eager to take this step either.

Ernst should be as outraged as anyone by what we’ve learned already about Trump’s actions. She has met with senior Ukrainian political and military leaders and bragged about helping to increase military aid to Ukraine in this year’s defense authorization bill. It is not only inappropriate but also illegal for the president to hold up that aid as leverage to get dirt on Joe Biden’s son.

Earlier on September 24, three of Ernst’s Democratic opponents had issued statements about the matter. From Eddie Mauro:

“For the sake of preserving our democratic institutions, I support an impeachment inquiry. The newest allegations related to the President’s solicitation of foreign election interference warrants a full investigation to determine the truth. Although I don’t relish the opportunity to begin a new and extensive investigation, I believe an impeachment inquiry is the only form of investigation that will truly hold this administration accountable.”

Kimberly Graham tweeted that “impeachment proceedings are long overdue. Hopefully, by the time I get to the Senate, he [Trump] won’t be there to convict and remove.”

Retired Vice Admiral Michael Franken said in a news release:

“The President’s actions in withholding aid to Ukraine, if reports are correct, reveal a stunning departure from standard procedures that have served the U.S. well for over 70 years. Before this presidency, State, Defense, and legislative staff gave unless-otherwise-directedproposals to the NSC to withhold previously approved aid based on events since aid was first approved. In Ukraine’s case, the military aid would be well-document in the nation’s security cooperation plan, and in most cases, the preconditions that Ukraine must do for delivery. Most country teams, like our defense team working under Ambassador Yovanovitch in Kiev, define success by ensuring no superfluous delays ensue. I know of no instance in which a top-down process, a President directing a hold to his staff, was cause of a delay.

“The military attempts to remove personal sensitivities from our decisionmaking processes. Lying in the performance of one’s duties is particularly frowned upon and often results in a truncated term of service, or worse. A breach of a national protocol due to some personal vendetta would be cause of instant dismissal.

“The military does not use the term impeachment, but the result is the same.”

At the time of this statement, Senator Ernst had yet to issue a statement.

UPDATE: Grassley released this statement on the summary of Trump’s phone call, which the White House released on September 25.

WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley, president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate, today released the following statement regarding the release of a White House transcript of a call between the presidents of the United States and Ukraine.

“Speaker Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry even before seeing the call transcript or hearing from the alleged whistleblower or the director of national intelligence. That says all anyone needs to know about the legitimacy of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry: impeach now, facts later.

“I’ve read the transcript in its entirety. It shows that there was no quid pro quo. The Ukrainian President admitted problems with corruption in the country and agreed that the issue at hand warranted looking into further.

“The firing of a prosecutor looking into former Vice President Joe Biden’s son following pressure from Mr. Biden himself is worthy of investigation. That a president who ran on an anti-corruption platform would look into this matter is unsurprising and is in both the U.S. and Ukrainian national interest.

“For years, Democrats have decried foreign interference in U.S. elections. But this seems to be a one-way street. Democrats are wholly uninterested in looking into past Ukrainian efforts to help former Vice President Biden, as well as the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign, which reportedly used Ukraine to undermine the Trump campaign. That’s not how the rule of law works.

“National media attention to only one side of this issue is disappointing even if unsurprising. The Obama administration used the Department of Justice and its intelligence agencies to investigate a political opponent in then-candidate Trump while using foreign government sources to further the investigation. But it’s supposedly unacceptable for the Trump administration to encourage a foreign nation to look into a matter that it was prevented from fully investigating by the previous administration with clear conflicts of interest. That’s not a standard that makes any sense.”

“Democrats’ cries for impeachment grow stronger by the day, but their case for impeachment grows weaker. Democrats should instead focus on the issues Americans care about, such as lowering prescription drug prices, rebuilding our infrastructure and passing the USMCA.”

LATER UPDATE: Ernst released this statement later on September 25.

“The fact that House Democrats dove head first into an impeachment inquiry before seeing this transcript shows exactly what we’ve known all along: they are determined to impeach President Trump. I’ve looked at the transcript; I don’t see anything there. The Senate Intelligence Committee is going through proper, bipartisan procedures on this whole matter. House Democrats should be focused on helping us lower health care costs for folks across the country and passing the widely supported USMCA.”

The official summary (not transcript) of Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president pointed to multiple crimes. Immediately after the Ukrainian leader says his country is ready to purchase more Javelins (anti-tank weapons), Trump replies, “I would like you to do us a favor though” and goes on to request an investigation of Biden’s family.

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin