House Republicans are expressing frustration with how the White House is handling the Democratic charge on impeachment.
They say the administration has suffered from an ineffective, inconsistent message with some going as far as questioning whether the White House has a plan at all for taking on the Democrats.
“Who knows what playbook they are on,” one GOP lawmaker told The Hill. “[Trump’s] pulling it out of his ass as he goes along.”
Senior staffers say members have privately taken issue with the lack of central coordination on a plan, even as most Republicans have avoided publicly criticizing Trump or the White House.
“There was frustration at the start since the White House didn’t really have a coordinated effort and that’s been an issue at times,” one leadership aide told The Hill.
Another GOP lawmaker told The Hill the party doesn’t “yet have a coherent response. But I think this is currently like every other Trump ‘scandal’ — it might be embarrassing but it isn’t illegal [or] impeachment worthy.”
While the majority of members have remained mum about their grievances with the White House’s response, a handful of prominent Republicans — including Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse Republicans voice concerns about White House’s impeachment messaging Graham sends letter asking countries to cooperate with Barr probe into Russia investigation Cruz, Graham send well wishes to Sanders after heart procedure MORE (R-S.C.) — have voiced a sense of uneasiness with Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani’s embroilment in the Ukraine controversy, arguing his frequent media appearances have caused more harm than good.
Trump’s recent tweet that quoted a pastor saying impeachment could lead to a “Civil War like fracture” provoked a public rebuke from Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerHouse Republicans voice concerns about White House’s impeachment messaging Jeffress denies predicting ‘actual civil war’ over Trump impeachment The Memo: Polling points to warning signs for GOP on Trump MORE (R-Ill.), who referred to the comment as “beyond repugnant.” And Trump’s attacks on the whistleblower and call to reveal the CIA officer’s identity sparked Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyHouse Republicans voice concerns about White House’s impeachment messaging Dems: Trump can’t interview whistleblower Trump rails against whistleblower, ‘spy’ within administration MORE (R-Iowa) and Rep. Paul MitchellPaul MitchellHouse Republicans voice concerns about White House’s impeachment messaging Trump rails against whistleblower, ‘spy’ within administration GOP lawmaker pushes back against Trump’s attack on whistleblower MORE (R-Mich.) to publicly come out in defense of enforcing whistleblower protections.
Trump also appeared to be growing frustrated and struggled to control the narrative on impeachment during a press conference on Wednesday, where he engaged in a combative exchange with a reporter after being pressed on why he was seeking information on Democratic presidential candidate Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse Republicans voice concerns about White House’s impeachment messaging Giuliani consulted with Manafort on Ukraine info: report Top Pence adviser was on Trump-Zelensky phone call at center of whistleblower complaint: report MORE and his son during his July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
With the rapid pace of the news cycle surrounding impeachment and the gravity of the consequences it could bring, some argue the White House shouldn’t bear all the blame for the messaging fumbles that have taken place.
“There needs to be a deep sense of what this is about and how to respond. So far, this hasn’t come from any part of the leadership in the party. We have to do better,” one GOP member, who requested anonymity, told The Hill. “This can’t be only Trump defending himself.”
Top Republicans in the House are making a concerted effort to be proactive in crafting a streamlined messaging strategy to combat Democrats’ attacks.
In the days following Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse Republicans voice concerns about White House’s impeachment messaging Overnight Health Care: Judge rules supervised drug injection sites are legal | Is a drug pricing deal still possible? | Walmart latest retailer to pull Zantac from shelves McCarthy shares ‘Stranger Things’ parody video criticizing impeachment MORE’s (D-Calif.) announcement of her support of a formal inquiry, GOP leadership aides and relevant committee communications staffers have begun holding daily meetings, one senior GOP source confirmed.
The House Republican Conference is regularly sending members readouts to keep them informed on the latest developments and news. And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHouse Republicans voice concerns about White House’s impeachment messaging New York Times reporter fact-checks McCarthy on whistleblower claims McCarthy shares ‘Stranger Things’ parody video criticizing impeachment MORE‘s (R-Calif.) office is providing lawmakers with daily guidance emails filled with rhetoric pushing back against Democrats’ talking points.
“For the time being, instead of the Heads Up email, we will be bringing you daily guidance on the Democrats’ attempts to undo the 2016 election and impeach the President. House Democrats have hated President TrumpDonald John TrumpSessions says he still supports Trump despite ouster as AG House Republicans voice concerns about White House’s impeachment messaging Giuliani consulted with Manafort on Ukraine info: report MORE since before he was even elected, and they’ve always believed his election to be illegitimate,” an email sent by McCarthy’s team to members on Wednesday said.
“They have been working to undo the results of our representative democracy ever since. Starting with the two-year Russia investigation, House Democrats threw baseless accusations at President Trump without any facts to back them up. But their impeachment fever has never been about finding facts.”
Sources with knowledge of the House Republicans’ messaging strategy said they plan to continue to lean in on accusing Democratic calls of impeachment of being politically motivated, taking aim at Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHouse Republicans voice concerns about White House’s impeachment messaging New York Times reporter fact-checks McCarthy on whistleblower claims Republicans seize on reports of whistleblower consulting with Intel Committee MORE (D-Calif.) for allegedly failing to obtain all of the facts before accusing the president of committing a crime. The GOP has also leaned in on attempting to paint Democrats as incapable of legislating due to their focus on impeachment, and acknowledged the circumstances call for constant strategizing, which can be a challenge.
“The narratives in the news changes so constantly it makes it tough to land on one sort of here’s what we’re doing going forward. And I think Democrats have run into that problem, too. I mean, they said we want to keep everyone focused on Ukraine and the phone call and now they’re hauling in all of Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiHouse Republicans voice concerns about White House’s impeachment messaging Giuliani consulted with Manafort on Ukraine info: report Giuliani says some documents turned over by State watchdog came from him MORE‘s old people — I think they’re getting a little distracted, too,” the senior aide said.
“And that’s what happens when just news cycle changes so rapidly, but I think you’ll see us continue to focus, we don’t want to deviate too much from the top line, the top line is that they’re ignoring the facts, they’re trying to attack this president and overturn an election that they’ve never thought was legitimate.”
Updated Thursday at 7: 25 a.m.