Trump Airs Grievances After Impeachment Acquittal
WASHINGTON — A day after his acquittal in the Senate, President Donald Trump celebrated with Republican allies and ripped Democrats — and the lone Republican — who backed his conviction, expressing a litany of lingering grievances in a somewhat subdued stream-of-consciousness monologue.
“It worked out,” Trump told dozens of Republican lawmakers, Cabinet officials, lawyers and political allies who packed the East Room of the White House. “We went through hell unfairly.”
The president’s triumphant display, which came two days after a State of the Union address in which partisan acrimony was laid bare both by the president and members of Congress, was not an attempt to unify the nation.
Despite Trump’s calm tone, his words only added fuel to his bitter feud with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the raging fires of partisanship.
“Nancy Pelosi is a horrible, vicious person,” Trump said Thursday. “They’re vicious as hell, and they’ll probably come back for more.”
Democrats, he claimed, “want to destroy our country.”
Trump’s unapologetic stridency and the event’s fanfare — he entered to “Hail to the Chief” and basked in a long ovation — stood in stark contrast to the contrition expressed 21 years ago by President Bill Clinton, who apologized to the nation after his Senate acquittal for the behavior that prompted a lengthy, divisive impeachment saga.
Trump’s only apology came at the end of the hourlong speech: “I want to apologize to my family for having them have to go through a phony, rotten deal,” he said.
Harking back to the 22-month investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, Trump portrayed himself as the target of never-ending investigations that, in his view, amount to little more than politically motivated Democratic attacks.
“We first went through Russia, Russia, Russia. It was all bullshit,” Trump said. “We then went through the Mueller report, and they should have come back one day later. They didn’t, they came back two years later after lives were ruined, after people went bankrupt.”
He continued: “They kept it going forever because they wanted to inflict political pain on someone who had just won an election.”
Trump singled out dozens of Republican lawmakers and officials in the crowd, lavishing them with thanks, praise and jocular ribbing, underscoring his continued determination to keep his party unified behind him.
Rep. Mark Meadows, one of the president’s most steadfast defenders, told the president toward the end of the event that the people in the room represented the support he has across the country.
“We’ve got your back,” said Meadows, R-N.C.
During the first week of the impeachment trial, the lead House impeachment manager, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., rankled several Republican lawmakers when he referenced an anonymously-sourced news report that Trump had threatened GOP lawmakers that any defections during the trial would see their “head on a pike.”
But Trump’s lengthy rewarding of those who backed him, and his expressions of scorn for the lone GOP defector, showed that, indeed, he does value loyalty above all.
As he addressed Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, he bristled momentarily about his state’s junior senator, Mitt Romney, who voted Wednesday to convict Trump on the article of impeachment for abuse of office.
“A great state, Utah, where my poll numbers have gone through the roof,” Trump riffed. “And one of the senators’ poll numbers, not this one, went down big. You saw that, Mike? But Mike is a brilliant guy.
“Say hello to the people of Utah and tell them I’m sorry about Mitt Romney,” he continued. “We can say by far that Mike Lee is the most popular senator from the state.”
While many of the president’s most ardent defenders echoed his claims that he’d done nothing wrong, several Republicans who voted to acquit Trump did express concern about his pressure campaign in Ukraine and the withholding of $391 million in military aid as he pushed the country’s new president to announce a corruption investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential 2020 rival.
Some even went as far as to call the behavior inappropriate, even as they said they did not view it as an abuse of office that warranted impeachment.
The White House had been mulling some sort of speech Wednesday following the vote, but that plan was scuttled after Romney’s surprise vote in favor of conviction on the abuse of power article denied the president the straight party-line vote he’d hoped for.
Thursday morning, Trump spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast and couldn’t hide his still simmering agitation over impeachment. He held up two newspapers — “ACQUITTED!” the bold face headlines screamed — as he took the stage and immediately lambasted the Democrats who led the investigation of his shadow diplomacy with Ukraine and argued for his removal him from office.
“As everybody knows, my family, our great country and your president have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people,” Trump said as other congressional leaders, including Pelosi, sat nearby on the dais.
“They have done everything possible to destroy us and by so doing very badly hurt our nation.”
Without mentioning them by name, Trump singled out Pelosi and Romney.
“I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” Trump said a day after Romney choked up during his Senate floor speech describing his Mormon faith as he explained his vote for conviction as a matter of upholding his oath to God.
“Nor do I like people who say ‘I pray for you’ when you know that is not so,” Trump continued, referencing Pelosi’s past comments that she was keeping the president in her prayers.
Trump’s harsh tone during the traditionally bipartisan program directly followed the morning’s keynote address from Harvard theologian Arthur Brooks, who delivered an impassioned plea for people to “love your enemies.”
When Brooks asked the audience who loved someone who they disagreed with politically, almost everyone raised their hands. Trump, seated close by on the dais, did not.
“Ask God to take political contempt from your heart,” Brooks said. “And sometimes when it’s too hard, ask God to help you fake it.”
When Trump took to the podium, he made clear he was unconvinced. “Arthur, I don’t know if I agree with you,” Trump said, before launching into his diatribe.
When he finished, he acknowledged the discordant tone of his own unabashed vindictiveness.
“I apologize, I’m trying to learn,” Trump said. “It’s not easy. It’s not easy. When they impeach you for nothing, then you’re supposed to like them? It’s not easy, folks. I do my best.”
Pelosi shrugged off Trump’s comments a couple of hours later during a news conference at the Capitol.
“He’s talking about things that he knows little about: faith and prayer,” she said. “He can say whatever he wants, but I do pray for him sincerely.”
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