U.S. Senator Rob Portman and his wife Jane are greeted by President Trump at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. TY GREENLEES/STAFF
Photo: Ty Greenlees
Photo: Ty Greenlees

Portman: Trump ‘wrong,’ but impeachment battle harmful

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman says the impeachment fight is making it harder to work on bipartisan legislation.

In a Dayton Daily News interview, Portman expressed frustration that impeachment was “taking a lot of the oxygen out of the room” on issues with bipartisan support, such as expanding gun purchase background checks or a national red flag law to remove firearms from people in crisis.

It’s “tough for the Republicans and Democrats to work together when there is a fundamental clash over whether a president should be impeached — just as happened during Bill Clinton’s impeachment.”

Portman said he won’t ask President Donald Trump to resign like he did when Clinton faced impeachment in 1998.

In 1998, the Cincinnati Republican served in the U.S. House and voted to impeach Clinton after asking him to resign “to spare the country from going through a long, divisive and distracting impeachment process.”

Now, Portman said that — “based on the evidence we have now” — he wouldn’t vote to remove Trump from office if he is impeached by the House. He also said he wouldn’t ask the president to resign because “I think it would be even worse” for the country.

“We’ll be voting in a year,” Portman said. “That’s where the decision ought to be made.”

JAMIE DUPREE: Democrats issue more subpoenas as impeachment probe expands

Portman said Clinton clearly broke the law by lying before a grand jury. In contrast, Portman believes Trump asking Ukraine’s president to investigate presidential candidate Joe Biden was “wrong,” but not illegal.

“I don’t think you should be asking a foreign government, whether it’s Ukraine, China, or another foreign government, to investigate a political opponent in the middle of a presidential campaign,” Portman said.

Asked what made the behavior wrong but not illegal, Portman said, “I don’t know that it’s illegal, but I just think it’s wrong.”

Federal Election Commission Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub issued a statement earlier this year that said, “Let me make something 100 percent clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.”

“I don’t know that that happened,” Portman said when Weintraub’s statement was read to him.

Portman said he was “not prepared to say” whether he would support censuring Trump, a measure that would express the Senate’s formal disapproval. The senate censured President Andrew Jackson in 1834 (it was expunged by his allies in 1837).

In recent days, Portman’s involvement in getting Trump to release aid to Ukraine has been subject to closer examination after the president said Portman could back up the White House’s version of events that a lack of aid from Europe — not the Biden investigation — held up the U.S. aid.

Portman serves as the chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, which specializes in issues facing the former Soviet republic.

“Recall that I was the person that spoke to the president the night before the money was released and in that conversation he talked about one thing and one thing only, and that was the Europeans not doing more,” Portman told the Dayton Daily News.

The newspaper asked Portman if it was possible Trump intentionally didn’t mention the Biden investigation.

“Sure, sure. I don’t know what was on his mind,” Portman said. “I can’t speculate on what he was thinking.”

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said Portman would be “the least inquisitive Ukraine Caucus chair possible” if he wasn’t aware of Trump withholding the aid at the same time there was pressure on the Ukrainians to start an investigation.

“Every morning the young interns clip out all the articles that are important,” Pepper said. “Rob Portman would have us believe he isn’t even reading the newspaper. He would literally have us believe that six days after the Washington Post wrote a column about this, that he still didn’t know about it.”

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