As U.S. House Approves Trump Impeachment Inquiry Rules, Ohio Senators Split

Ohio's two senators would serve on the president's jury should the U.S. House pass articles of impeachment against him. Here's what they're thinking so far, and where the process stands.

Oct 31, 2019 at 12:19 pm
click to enlarge President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in West Chester - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in West Chester

As the U.S. House of Representatives mulls articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, Ohio's two senators have been on opposite sides of the mostly partisan debate.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, said yesterday that Trump's alleged actions withholding aid from Ukraine until officials there launched an investigation into his political rival Joe Biden are impeachable and worse than those taken by impeached president Richard Nixon. 

"Trump clearly blocked $300 million that Congress had passed that would go to our ally Ukraine to fight Russian aggression," Brown told reporters Wednesday. "Trump held it up to ask for a political and personal favor. With all of Nixon's lawbreaking, he never did anything like that, and it's clearly an impeachable offense."

Brown isn't all-in just yet, though. He has said he isn't sure yet whether the president should be removed from office.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican, however, says that while Trump's actions were inappropriate, they do not rise to the level of impeachable offenses. Portman has also indicated he will vote for Trump in 2020 — something he says he didn't do in 2016. 

"I think at this stage where we are already into the presidential election, the best thing to do is for people who would like to see Donald Trump in office or out of office is to focus on the election," Portman said during a call with media earlier this week. "That's how we work in this country."

The House today formalized its impeachment proceedings, passing a resolution 232-196 that allows the House Intelligence Committee to hold open hearings and pass along its findings to the House Judiciary Committee, which will recommend whether to move forward with articles of impeachment. The intelligence committee will also release transcripts of its closed-door interviews with witnesses and other evidence it has gathered so far.

Currently, per the rules of the House, witness testimony — some of it from former administration staff reportedly affirming that Trump held up aid to Ukraine to try and leverage an investigation into Biden — has taken place in private before bipartisan House committees. In the next, public phase, Trump's attorneys will have the chance to cross-examine witnesses.

If the judiciary committee does recommend moving forward with impeachment and the House approves the articles, Trump's jury will be the Senate, a body narrowly controlled by Republicans. 

Among the 100 who would decide Trump's fate in that scenario: Brown and Portman.

Democrats have taken some criticism for their ongoing investigation, including — not surprisingly — from the president himself, who today tweeted simply, "The Greatest Witch Hunt in American History." 

Some members of the House, including Ohio Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, have echoed those sentiments, calling the investigation into the president a sham.

But even a few conservative voices — including former Ohio Gov. John Kasich — have called for Republicans to hold Trump accountable. Conservative Washington Post opinion writer Jennifer Rubin called Portman "the profile of a Trump enabler" in a column yesterday after his comments downplaying impeachment. 

It is still early in the process, however, and it remains to be seen whether evidence surfaces that could change any minds on either side of the debate in the House and the Senate. For now, though, Portman, Brown and a number of other lawmakers are staying firmly entrenched in their partisan camps.