Republicans are running out of ways to defend Trump

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Image: Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) speaks during a press conference alongside House Republicans on Capitol Hill
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) speaks during a press conference alongside House Republicans on Capitol Hill on Oct. 23, 2019 in Washington, DC.Alex Wroblewski / Getty Images

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — If you want to know why House Republicans decided on Wednesday to storm the secure SCIF room to disrupt a deposition into the impeachment inquiry, it’s probably because President Trump and the GOP are running out of defenses.

First, when the whistleblower story took off in late September, the president argued that his call in question with Ukraine’s president was “perfectly fine and routine.”

But days later, on Sept. 25, the White House released a transcription memo of the call, in which Trump clearly asks Ukraine’s president for help in investigating Joe Biden and his son.

“There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great.”

Next, Trump and the GOP contended the whistleblower was a partisan and his complaint was merely hearsay.

But since then, the transcription memo, released text messages, and subsequent witnesses in the impeachment inquiry have largely corroborated the whistleblower’s original complaint.

“Gordon, one thing Kurt and I talked about yesterday was Sasha Danyliuk's point that President Zelensky is sensitive about Ukraine being taken seriously, not merely as an instrument in Washington domestic, reelection politics.”

Then the Trump/GOP argument was that there was no pressure on Ukraine and no quid pro quo.

But in perhaps the most explosive testimony so far, Trump’s top diplomat in Ukraine revealed that, yes, military assistance and a White House meeting were being tied to Ukraine’s president taking action on Trump’s desired investigations regarding 2016 and 2020.

"[D]uring our call on September 8, Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.”

Finally, before House Republicans stormed into the SCIF yesterday, Trump and Republicans said there couldn’t be a quid pro quo because the Ukrainians didn’t know their military assistance was being withheld.

But then just hours later, the New York Times reported that Ukraine DID know the money was being withheld.

“In fact, word of the aid freeze had gotten to high-level Ukrainian officials by the first week in August, according to interviews and documents obtained by The New York Times.”

So over the past month, almost every Trump/GOP defense of that July 25 Ukraine call has crumbled – including the GOP’s complaint in storming the SCIF that Republicans have been shut out of the investigative process.

In fact, Republican members of Congress — who serve on the committees conducting the impeachment inquiry — have been attending these closed-door depositions and hearings.

The situation in Wisconsin looks a bit different than the national polls

A Marquette Law School poll of Wisconsin released yesterday is a reminder that the national poll results we’re seeing are a bit different than the attitudes in top battleground states for 2020.

In the poll, 46 percent of registered voters in Wisconsin say there is enough cause for Congress to hold impeachment hearings on Trump, versus 49 percent who disagree. That 46 percent is lower than the majorities we’ve seen in most national polls supporting the impeachment inquiry.

The poll also finds 44 percent of Wisconsin supporting Trump’s impeachment/removal from office, versus 51 percent who oppose it.

Trump’s job rating in Wisconsin is 46 percent in the poll – slightly higher than his national average in the low 40s.

And in hypothetical general-election matchups, Biden leads Trump by 6 points in the state, 50 percent to 44 percent. That’s compared with Bernie Sanders’ 2-point lead (48 percent to 46 percent), Elizabeth Warren’s 1-point lead (47 percent to 46 percent), and Pete Buttigieg’s 2-point deficit (43 percent-45 percent).

Most national polling shows all of these Democrats ahead of Trump by double digits or high-single digits.

2020 Vision: Make it nine for November’s debate

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A new national Quinnipiac poll released this morning has Amy Klobuchar at 3 percent support – which means she appears to have qualified for November’s debate by hitting 3 percent or more in at least four qualifying polls.

The nine who have qualified: Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Andrew Yang, Cory Booker, Tom Steyer and now Klobuchar.

By the way, Quinnipiac shows a different horserace than yesterday’s CNN poll did: Warren 28 percent, Biden 21 percent, Sanders 15 percent, Buttigieg 10 percent, Harris 5 percent and Klobuchar 3 percent.

After Biden’s sunny polling forecast from yesterday’s CNN poll, today’s forecast for him is … cloudy and rainy.

On the campaign trail today

Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro are in Iowa, where they participate in a LULAC town hall… And Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Andrew Yang stump in New Hampshire.

Dispatches from NBC’s embeds

Joe Biden answered reporters’ questions after a speech in West Point, Iowa where he responded to reports of other Democrats considering a late run for president. This response comes on the heels of Biden surging in the latest national poll released Wednesday, per NBC’s Maura Barrett.

Question: "Mr. Vice President, there are some reports that some other prominent Democrats like Hillary Clinton might jump into the race over concerns about the ability to beat Donald Trump. Do you have any thoughts about someone else jumping in like Hillary Clinton? Any concerns there?"

Biden: "Look, I didn't enter this race based on polling data. I didn't enter this race based on what my percentages were. I entered this race knowing exactly what I want to do. And that was I wasn't joking about it — to restore the soul and decency of this country and to rebuild the middle class."

Andrew Yang said yesterday in New Hampshire that his campaign “has to demonstrate a ton of strength” in the early primaries for it to stay relevant. “My campaign has to demonstrate a ton of strength in one of the first three states, realistically probably one of the first two states in order to successfully catch fire. And so to me if New Hampshire doesn't get behind the campaign, the odds of it, making it the whole way to the White House go down a lot,” he said, per NBC’s Julia Jester.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … four

Four.

That's the number of women on the all-female panel who will moderate the November 20 Democratic debate co-hosted by MSNBC and the Washington Post.

The event will be moderated by Rachel Maddow, host of "The Rachel Maddow Show"; Andrea Mitchell, NBC News' chief foreign affairs correspondent; Kristen Welker, NBC News' White House correspondent; and Ashley Parker, a White House reporter for The Washington Post.

The Lid: Extremely Online

Don't miss the pod from yesterday, when we learned, once again, that Twitter is most definitely not real life.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

Trump's lawyers are arguing that he can't be charged while in office — even if he does, in fact, shoot someone on Fifth Avenue.

California Democrat Katie Hill is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee over an alleged relationship with a House staffer.

The Ukrainian president was reportedly worried about pressure from Trump to investigate Biden even before he took office.

Our colleague Benjy Sarlin asked Andrew Yang: What's wrong with the New York Knicks?

Trump Agenda: Taking it to the streets

House Democrats want to take the impeachment probe public by perhaps the middle of next month.

Republicans' defense of Trump is growing less organized, the Washington Post writes.

Gordon Sondland's attorney says he doesn't recall pressuring Ukraine over aid.

Steve Bannon is hitting the radio airwaves to defend his former boss.

Mark Zuckerberg had a long day on Capitol Hill yesterday.

The New York Times looks at how White House aides were concerned that Trump had yet another back channel to Ukraine: an aide named Kash Patel.

Trump's Syria decision has him in hot water with some evangelicals.

2020: Cash-strapped

POLITICO looks at Joe Biden's fundraising challenges.

Pete Buttigieg is out with a new plan addressing women's economic and health issues.

New polling from Wisconsin offers an impeachment reality check.

Julian Castro is proposing a new criminal justice plan.

Some endangered Senate Republicans are having trouble raising cash.