U.S. House Democrats are spending the Thanksgiving recess hammering President Donald Trump for allegedly soliciting foreign interference in U.S. elections as they prepare for another round of impeachment hearings when they return to Capitol Hill.
“The president used his office to pressure a foreign government to interfere in our elections,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted Monday — repeating a message she made to reporters last week when the House adjourned for the one-week recess. The president, she said, has “undermined the national security of the United States” and “the integrity of our elections.”
Congressional Democrats are emphasizing that message — and stressing its national security implications — back at home this week.
In a call with reporters Monday, Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut (D), a member of the House committee leading the impeachment inquiry, said the Trump administration’s actions in Ukraine have made the country more vulnerable.
“The president has demonstrated his weaknesses and characteristics to the world,” said Himes, who was joined by national security experts on the call. “This is a grave danger.”
Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia, a three-term Democrat, emphasized that point at an impeachment-focused town hall meeting in northern Virginia last week, where he too was joined by national security experts from Washington, D.C.-area think tanks. And other Democrats are highlighting the risk to national security and the U.S. electoral system in their messaging, using the hashtag “DefendOurDemocracy” on social media.
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said this is the progressives’ strongest message on impeachment — in part because the public doesn’t understand the details of the president’s alleged misconduct in his July 25th call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“They’re not completely clear why this was an impeachable offense,” Lake said, referring to the president’s alleged attempt to withhold U.S. foreign aid to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation of his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
The public, she continued, doesn’t understand why the Ukraine call triggered an impeachment inquiry — even though their ability to understand the exchange was reportedly a key factor in Pelosi’s decision to launch a formal impeachment investigation. The public also wonders why other, seemingly more egregious grievances aren’t the focus of the inquiry, Lake said.
As such, Democrats are emphasizing the broad themes of democracy, safety and security — values the public can easily understand — and tapping experts to serve as messengers on the finer points of the implications of the president’s actions on foreign policy.
Others, however, say pointing to the president’s behavior is a more effective strategy, with the phrase “abuse of power” the most compelling shorthand, according to a Nov. 12 report by Navigator Research, a progressive firm.
Democrats are using that language too. Rep. Val Demings, a Florida Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, used the phrase in a tweet last week. Rep. Susie Lee, a Nevada Democrat, used it at a town hall meeting in Las Vegas over the weekend.
Many Democrats have also made a linguistic shift — swapping out the wonky Latin phrase “quid pro quo” for the more familiar word “bribery” — a move Lake said has helped the public understand the allegations against the president. The word “bribery” is much stronger because it connotes illegal activity, whereas “quid pro quo” suggests business as usual, she said.
GOP ‘all over the map’
Republicans, meanwhile, have yet to coalesce around a single message on impeachment — a strategy often seen as necessary to communicate effectively in today’s fractured media environment. Read more