Game over: I see no bribery or extortion here, says moderate Republican Will Hurd

I use the term “game over” advisedly, as it was popular yesterday among some anti-Trumpers during Gordon Sondland’s testimony.

Superficially it makes no sense for Trump critics to be declaring “game over” about a process which we know will inevitably end in acquittal. But that was my point in the Fiona Hill post — the “game” for anti-Trumpers at this point isn’t removal, since that assuredly won’t happen, but the catharsis inherent in watching Trump’s own diplomats serially undermine his NO QUID PRO QUO! narrative. Having a toady like Sondland, who bought his ambassadorship with a million-dollar donation, tell the country that yeah, of course he and everyone else down the chain believed there was a quid pro quo was maximum catharsis. Hence, “game over.”

But the real game, whether the president will be removed or whether not a single Republican will join the effort to remove him, is also essentially over after this Will Hurd speech during today’s hearings. Take four minutes to watch it as it’s the best possible version of a “bad but not impeachable” argument in Trump’s defense. The call was inappropriate, Hurd says. The White House’s two-track handling of Ukraine policy, with Sondland doing one thing and the regular bureaucracy doing another, was “bungling.” We shouldn’t be playing games with Ukraine’s security. But removing a president from office mid-term is the gravest choice Congress can make. And the evidence of a high crime just isn’t compelling enough based on what we’ve heard to justify making that choice.

He also complains that every day the intelligence community spends bogged down on impeachment is a day that it’s not busy advancing U.S. interests abroad. That’s true, but whose fault is that, Will? Go ask the guy who decided that military aid to help Ukraine fend off Russia wasn’t as important as an announcement that Ukraine would start to investigate Joe Biden’s son.

Anyway, why is this so important? Hurd’s a Republican and it’s the opposite of surprising for a House Republican to oppose impeachment, right? Right, but remember that Hurd used to be a member of the intel community himself. He worked undercover in Pakistan for the CIA before running for Congress. If anyone in the GOP might be a bit more sympathetic to IC grievances against Trump, he would be. Hurd is also a moderate, enough so to have criticized Trump in the past on immigration. (His home district in Texas runs along the border and is overwhelmingly Latino.) On top of that, Hurd is retiring from Congress next year, partly out of frustration at the direction of the party under Trump. He was as free as a Republican could conceivably be to join the impeachment effort — but he’s not biting. Maybe that’s because he has ambitions for a political comeback down the road or maybe it’s because he’s genuinely unconvinced by the evidence he’s seen, but either way the universal verdict on his speech is the correct one: If Democrats can’t get Hurd, they can’t get anyone.

*Maybe* Francis Rooney, a Romney pal who’s been critical of Trump and who’s also retiring, will flip. But that may be Pelosi’s and Schiff’s only shot.

It’s easy to imagine Hurd’s speech today becoming a model for Trump-skeptic Republican senators. After all, he’s not endorsing the Trumpy claims that it was a PERFECT CALL with Zelensky and that there was NO QUID PRO QUO. He’s not indulging Devin Nunes’s conspiracy theories about that Chalupa person or whatever. He’s critical of the president on the merits. Mitt Romney may very well crib from this speech after Trump’s trial, excoriating the president for how he handled the Ukraine business … while also concluding that it’s just not so grave an affront that removal from office is warranted, especially so close to an election. Trump should be ecstatic to know that Will Hurd is still in the fold and willing to provide a template like this for other wary GOPers to support him.

But he’ll probably be mad since it’s never enough to go to bat for him. Republicans have to assure him that his judgment is correct in all matters. That’s no big deal for him in an individual case like Hurd’s, but if we see a drumbeat of speeches like this in the Senate (a … “Hurd mentality”?) beating him up for his Ukraine conduct before voting to acquit, he’ll probably lash out. Even though some of the Republicans knocking him, like Cory Gardner, will be doing so simply to try to play both sides of the electorate in their battleground home states before facing voters next fall.

In lieu of an exit question, here’s the closest thing to a rebuttal of Hurd’s speech, today’s closing statement from Adam Schiff. He finished with a flourish every day this week. The zinger this time was “The difference between then and now is not the difference between Nixon and Trump. It’s the difference between that Congress and this one.” We are better than that, he bellows, referring to Trump’s apparent attempt to involve another foreign country in a U.S. election. For the second time today I must correct a Democrat on that point: Dude, we are not.