By; Craig Gilbert and Molly Beck of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
WASHINGTON - With House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing Tuesday that Democrats will launch an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, the partisan divide between Wisconsin’s federal lawmakers remained mostly intact amid a rush of rapidly shifting developments.
On the GOP side, impeachment appears to have no support among current House Republicans from Wisconsin (or any other state). No GOP lawmakers from Wisconsin have publicly criticized the president over the issue that prompted Pelosi's decision — the news that Trump urged the leader of Ukraine in a phone call to investigate a major political rival, Democrat Joe Biden, and his son.
"Speaker Pelosi’s comments today do not change the state of play," said Jim Sensenbrenner, the veteran Wisconsin Republican who will retire after next year.
"The Democrats have been searching for any alleged 'impeachable' offense since the beginning of the Trump presidency. I expect the Judiciary Committee and others will continue their partisan investigations, tarnishing Congress’ credibility and further dividing the country,” Sensenbrenner said.
But in a sign of the growing Democratic support for impeachment, Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin, who had not previously endorsed an impeachment inquiry, said:
"The House is taking appropriate action in response to the Trump administration’s refusal to follow the law and provide this whistleblower complaint and Inspector General report to Congress, which has a constitutional responsibility to get all the facts and provide oversight of the executive branch."
House Democrat Mark Pocan said in an interview that, "the president in this case not only broke the law by asking a foreign government to manufacture evidence against a political opponent, he’s also openly admitted it, which puts us in a very different territory. ... In this case it’s crystal clear by his own admission.”
Pocan and fellow House Democrat Gwen Moore were already on the record backing an impeachment inquiry long before the Ukraine story surfaced.
Moore said in a statement Tuesday that Trump's call to the Ukranian president was an act of "lawlessness."
"An impeachment inquiry is proper, timely and necessary," she said.
Wisconsin's third House Democrat, Ron Kind, has criticized the president’s conduct in the past but stopped short of supporting an impeachment inquiry.
In a statement Tuesday night, Kind indicated he supported an investigation of the whistleblower complaint behind the Ukraine developments but nowhere used the word "impeachment."
"The reports of a whistleblower complaint alleging that the president actively coerced a foreign government to meddle in our election are extremely concerning. The administration must hand over the whistleblower report, as required by law, so Congress can investigate these claims as part of its constitutional duties. As a former special prosecutor, I know no one is above the law — not even the president.”
While Pocan and Moore represent heavily Democratic seats, Kind represents a rural, swing western Wisconsin district that voted for the Republican Trump by 4 points for president in 2016 — after backing Democrat Barack Obama by 11 points in 2012.
There are four Republicans representing Wisconsin in the House, since a fifth Republican, Sean Duffy, retired effective Monday.
GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher, who represents northeast Wisconsin, said it's premature to talk about impeachment because Congress hasn't seen the transcript of the call with the Ukrainian president or heard from intelligence officials. He did not dismiss the Democrats' concerns as some of his colleagues have.
"Media speculation is an insufficient cause to begin impeachment," he said in a statement. "I’m glad the President is making the transcript public, I'm looking forward to hearing Acting Director (Joseph) Maguire's testimony this week, and I hope the full whistleblower report is also released to the appropriate Congressional committees.”
Sensenbrenner, the state’s senior Republican, defended Trump when asked about the Ukraine developments at a town hall meeting Saturday in Wauwatosa. While many Democrats contend the fact that Trump urged Ukraine to investigate Biden was by itself damning, Sensenbrenner said that it would have to be clear that Trump offered Ukraine a “quid pro quo” to cause him consternation.
“From what we know now, Trump did nothing wrong. And he did nothing wrong because he did not offer a quid pro quo to the president of Ukraine for any of this information.”
In a separate interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel before the town hall meeting, Sensenbrenner said of Trump’s conversation with the leader of Ukraine:
“I would feel differently if there was a quid pro quo involved on that, but merely to find out if Hunter Biden (Joe Biden's son) was violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Asking the new president of Ukraine, who ran on an anti-corruption platform, to look into that, I do not think was out of bounds.”
Trump and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, have been pushing Ukraine to investigate Burisma Group, a Ukrainian energy company where Hunter Biden served on the board of directors.
U.S. Rep Bryan Steil of Janesville said Pelosi was engaging in "political theater" but did not directly comment on the allegations or whether impeachment was needed.
"If Speaker Pelosi wanted to officially begin an impeachment inquiry, she would have brought a resolution to the House floor for a vote," he said in a statement. "We must focus on the issues impacting Americans — our $22 trillion national debt, the rising costs of health care, and job creation for families and workers. Let’s end this circus and get to work.”
Republican congressional candidates in Wisconsin sided with Trump.
“This is yet another Democrat distraction from the left’s failure to get anything done in Washington,” state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who is seeking to replace Sensenbrenner in the 5th Congressional District, said in a statement.
“While President Trump is working to deliver on his promises to the American people, D.C. Democrats continue to spend all their time focused on finding excuses for these drawn-out impeachment threats, instead of the issues that average Americans in places like WI care about,” Fitzgerald said.
State Sen. Tom Tiffany, who is running in the Trump-friendly 7th Congressional District for the seat vacated by Duffy, called on Democrats to stop their “endless witch hunts.”
“The radical Democrats controlling Congress are more intent on undermining our president than they are about enacting a trade deal that our country desperately needs,” he said.
Aides to Jason Church, a Republican who is also running in the 7th Congressional District, did not immediately answer questions.
Tom Palzewicz, a Democrat seeking a seat in the 5th Congressional District held by Sensenbrenner, said he would support impeachment if indeed a transcript of the call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shows the U.S. president pressured a foreign government to investigate his political rival.
“The purpose of the impeachment process is designed as a check and balance on the president's potential abuse of power. There are certainly grounds for an investigation and the American people and their elected leaders deserve to know all the facts,” Palzewicz said.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who defeated Trump ally Scott Walker in 2018, sidestepped the question of whether House members should pursue impeachment.
“I don't make any decisions on that. I'm focused on Wisconsin. Clearly, I follow it in the news, but that's for the people that are in Washington D.C., and their constituents here in Wisconsin to figure out,” he said Tuesday. “Clearly, it's something that gives me concern because things, when (they) kind of take us off the rail as far as moving forward, we have to find a way to move forward as a nation and so hopefully there will be some resolution soon."
Senate Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday but has said he thought it would be a bad idea for the president to release a transcript of his call with the leader of Ukraine, calling it a bad precedent.
The GOP-controlled U.S. Senate unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday that the whistleblower complaint be sent to the Intelligence Committee, a step the White House has balked at.
The president, meanwhile, said Tuesday he would authorize the release Wednesday of the full transcript of his phone call with the leader of Ukraine.