With potential impeachment looming, Donald Trump is facing a high-velocity political threat like none he’s confronted before.
On Saturday, he video-tweeted that the Democrats' possible move is "the single greatest scam in the history of American politics."
Within two weeks, the scandal over his phone call to Ukraine has evolved from a process fight over a whistleblower complaint to an impeachment inquiry.
Much of the evidence is already in public view. A rough transcript of a phone call in which Trump asks Ukraine’s president to help investigate the son of his 2020 political rival, Joe Biden. The whistleblower’s detailed letter alleges the White House tried to cover up the call, and possibly others.
The whistleblower gave the Democrats what they needed: a simple charge — that the president sought a foreign government’s help for personal political gain — and evidence to back it up.
For House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several Democratic moderates who had resisted calls for impeachment, the calculus shifted. It was now more of a risk to recoil from impeachment than charge ahead.
"What happened in the phone conversation was that a President of the United States would withhold military assistance which was paid for with tax payer money to effectively shake down a leader of another country unless he did him a favour," Pelosi told a TV show host on Saturday.
According to a one-day NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll conducted on Wednesday, 49 percent of Americans approve of the House formally starting an impeachment inquiry into Trump. Among Democrats, 88 percent approve of the investigation, while 93 percent of Republicans disapprove.
Mark Updegrove, a presidential historian and president of the LBJ Foundation in Austin, Texas, said it’s enduring support from Republican lawmakers that currently separates Trump from Richard Nixon, who resigned in the midst of the Watergate impeachment inquiry because his party began to abandon him.
“The big difference between this and Watergate is that you had both Republicans and Democrats being deeply concerned about the president being involved in criminal wrongdoing,” Updegrove said. “It was a bipartisan effort and you certainly don’t have that here.”
And Trump’s hold on the Republican Party makes it nearly impossible to foresee a scenario in which the GOP-controlled Senate convicts Trump if he were impeached by the Democratic-run House.