For the GOP on impeachment, it's Trump's way or the highway

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, leaves after a vote at the Capitol on Dec. 2, 2019.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, leaves after a vote at the Capitol on Dec. 2, 2019.Alex Wong / Getty Images file

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — After Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, voiced support Monday for calling witnesses after news of John Bolton’s claims from his new book, the newest GOP senator — Georgia’s Kelly Loeffler — fired back at her colleague.

“After 2 weeks, it’s clear that Democrats have no case for impeachment. Sadly, my colleague @SenatorRomney wants to appease the left by calling witnesses who will slander the @realDonaldTrump during their 15 minutes of fame. The circus is over. It’s time to move on! #gapol,” Loeffler tweeted.

(Later on Monday, we learned why Loeffler might have fired off that tweet — Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., one of Trump’s biggest defenders in the House, is planning to primary her.)

It’s all a reminder that, for Republicans in the Trump Era, there is no breathing room — unless you’re a Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski.

It’s Trump’s way or the highway.

And it’s exactly how the president wants it — if you remember from the Jeff Flake and Bob Corker retirements, the defeat of Rep. Carlos Curbelo, the primary opposition to Mark Sanford.

It’s also a profound change from 20 years, when then-Sen. Joe Lieberman could criticize Bill Clinton’s behavior — and then become his party’s VP running mate. (Of course, Lieberman would later become a man without a party.)

Over the past three years, our national politics has pretty much been reduced to this choice: Are you helping Trump, or are you thwarting him? And there’s very little in-between for members of Congress and senators who might want to go in a different direction.

Throwing spaghetti against the wall

President Trump’s lawyers on Monday were throwing so much spaghetti against the wall — to see what would stick — the Senate chamber might have been the kitchen in an Olive Garden.

You had:

  • Ken Starr — yes, that Ken Starr — criticizing the use of impeachment as a tool: “Like war, impeachment is hell.”
  • Jay Sekulow maintaining that no witness has testified that Trump himself said there was any connection between Ukraine’s security assistance and an investigation into the Bidens (even though John Bolton is now claiming the president told him this).
  • Alan Dershowitz saying that, even if Bolton’s claims are true, they’re not an impeachable offense: “Let me repeat: nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense.”
  • Jane Raskin contending that Rudy Giuliani’s activities with Ukraine had nothing to do with 2020 politics.
  • And Pam Bondi and Eric Herschmann arguing that the Bidens needed to be investigated.

Got all of that?

If you’re a regular watcher of Sean Hannity, it might have made sense. But if not, it was all over the place.

Tweet of the day

Impeachment trial update

Last day for the president’s defense: It’s the third and final day of arguments for the president’s legal team, per NBC’s Kasie Hunt and the NBC Capitol Hill team.

The Senate gavels in at 1:00 p.m. ET.

Where are we?

Last Tuesday: procedural jousting over the organizing resolution; rules passed around 2:00 a.m. ET

Last Wednesday: prosecution opening arguments, 8 hours

Last Thursday: prosecution, 8 hours

Last Friday: prosecution, 8 hours

Last Saturday: White House defense

Sunday: off

Yesterday: White House defense

Today: White House defense

Tomorrow: Senators’ questions

Thursday: Senators’ questions

Friday: Deliberations?

Saturday: Vote on witnesses?

Sunday: off

Monday: Iowa caucuses

Tuesday: State of the Union

2020 Vision: Third slogan is the charm for Warren?

First, there was Elizabeth Warren’s “I’ve got a plan for that.”

Then came the messaging from her campaign and surrogates that she’s the “unity candidate” — best able to unify the Biden-versus-Bernie voters.

And now comes a third slogan for Warren just days before the Iowa caucuses: “Women win,” report NBC’s Ali Vitali, Deepa Shivaram and Molly Roecker.

“‘I just want to be clear: Women win!’ she declared Sunday night to cheers in Cedar Rapids.”

More: “‘People ask in different ways,’ Warren said when asked by NBC News about her new closing pitch Sunday night. ‘They ask about it. I'm glad to talk about it right up front.’ And the new riffs directly take on the electability argument, presenting her gender as an asset against Trump.”

On the campaign trail today

The activity in Iowa: Joe Biden campaigns in Muscatine, Davenport and Clinton… Pete Buttigieg holds town halls in Ottumwa, Osceola and Indianola… Tom Steyer hits Ankeny and Des Moines… Andrew Yang is in Perry, Nevada… And Michael Moore and Ben & Jerry stump for Bernie Sanders in Iowa… In New Hampshire, Ashley Judd stumps for Warren, as Tulsi Gabbard remains in the Granite State… And President Trump holds a politically rally in Wildwood, N.J.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds

Pete Buttigieg can’t quite shake questions about his lack of support in the black community, NBC’s Priscilla Thompson reports. While campaigning in Iowa yesterday, Buttigieg’s first question of the evening was how Buttigieg could give votes confidence that he can build a larger coalition. His response echoed many of his earlier statements — first, he has to do well in Iowa. “It is certainly more challenging when you've been here a matter of months in presidential politics instead of decades. And you have seen even African-American candidates struggled to get out of single digits in the South. So even though we've done better with minority voters here in the Midwest, folks in the South are very skeptical and not without reason,” Buttigieg said.

And Michael Bloomberg’s last conversation with Donald Trump, reported by NBC’s Amanda Golden: “Bloomberg said he talked to President Trump once before he got into office, and said that the last time he spoke to him was between when he got elected and when he took office — ‘We had a pleasant conversation. He asked what he should do, I said hire people smarter than you and he said there aren't any, and you know I said look you got to get people that have knowledge of each of these areas – defense and finance and commerce and all of these things that he knows nothing about. And he said, well he did know something about it. But I said if you could get good people and delegate to them, then you can have a decent administration and he said, well, thank you very much. He couldn't have been more polite, as I remember.’”

Data Download: The number of the day is … 70 percent

70 percent.

That’s the average share of votes in 2016 that Hillary Clinton won in the states and congressional districts where Bernie Sanders has earned major presidential endorsements, per NBC’s Liz Brown-Kaiser.

Of the eight U.S. representatives and senators who have endorsed Sanders in the 2020 race, Hillary Clinton won an average of 70 percent of the vote in those states and districts.

Ilan Omar (MN-5): Clinton won 73 percent of the vote in 2016

Rashida Tlaib (MI-13): 78 percent

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14): 77 percent

Ro Khanna (CA-17): 73 percent

Pat Leahy (VT-Sen): 57 percent

Peter Welch (VT-At Large): 57 percent

Mark Pocan (WI-2): 65 percent

Pramila Jayapal (WA-7): 80 percent

Average: 70 percent

That 70 percent average is in contrast to Clinton’s 59 percent average in the states and districts from Joe Biden’s and Elizabeth Warren’s major endorsers; 58 percent for Pete Buttigieg’s major endorsers; and 45 percent for Amy Klobuchar’s endorsers.

The Lid

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we broke down what you need to know about the latest data out of New Hampshire.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

The Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan is expected to allow conditional statehood for Palestine.

The Washington Post asks if Elizabeth Warren’s ground game in Iowa will get her over the edge.

The New York Times looks into how employees of color on the Buttigieg campaign spoke up about issues in the workplace.

The State Department has kicked an NPR reporter off an upcoming foreign trip after a dustup between one of her colleagues and Mike Pompeo.

POLITICO looks into a Virgin Islands property deal between Joe Biden’s brother and a lobbyist.

Trump Agenda: Drip, drip, drip

The Washington Post and the New York Times have more details on the Bolton book.

Benjamin Netanyahu has withdrawn his request for immunity from prosecution.

There aren’t too many credible primary challengers taking on GOP incumbents from the right anymore.

2020: Klobuchar’s closing ads

Amy Klobuchar is up with her final ads in Iowa.

Joe Biden is arguing that he’s the best candidate for Democrats because he’s weathered the most attacks from Trump.

Why has Biden been scaling back in New Hampshire?

Environmental and energy issues are dividing Democrats in Pennsylvania.

Michael Bloomberg took on Bernie Sanders in the senator’s home state of Vermont.

Trump-aligned America First Politics is taking its anti-impeachment argument to vulnerable Democrats’ home states.

And Elizabeth Warren has a bunch of new progressive endorsements.