congress

Trump's Hill cheerleaders take center stage in impeachment defense

The president's fiercest protectors held an impromptu press conference to slam the impeachment inquiry.

Scott Perry (R-PA),  Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC)

Many Hill Republicans are staying in their bunkers, waiting for more details to emerge before they defend President Donald Trump in the Ukraine scandal.

Then there’s the Trump loyalists who are racing out on social media, cable TV and the Capitol’s hallways to protect the president as the impeachment inquiry ratchets up — and the president has taken notice.

While some of these lawmakers have long relished in their role as Trump warriors — especially during the years-long Russia probe — the duty has taken on new meaning as Trump faces the greatest threat to his presidency to date. And in the absence of a centralized strategy from the White House, they also appear to be filling the messaging void in the House GOP, which is Trump’s first line of defense against impeachment.

That dynamic was on full display Tuesday, when some of Trump’s fiercest defenders gathered in the Capitol basement during the congressional recess for an impromptu press conference.

The lawmakers eagerly waited on the sidelines as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) delivered a brief statement — and took no questions from reporters — after the Trump administration decided to block Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, from testifying behind closed doors.

Then, it was time for Trump’s cheerleaders to mount their defense. The group — which included conservative ringleader Jim Jordan of Ohio, top Trump ally Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Fox News fixture Matt Gaetz of Florida — stood in front of the cameras and talked to reporters for about 20 minutes to defend the president and take shots at Schiff and the Democrats.

“This is not a fair process. We spent more time in the SCIF last time with Ambassador [Kurt] Volker than Adam Schiff did,” Meadows told the large scrum of reporters. “You may have noticed that he came out here ... and what did he do? He gave this benign thing and then raced off to a fundraiser.”

Meadows and Jordan both belong to the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which is home to some of Trump’s top allies on Capitol Hill. The duo has been active on Twitter and the cable news circuit defending Trump. Meadows said on Fox News that he agreed with Trump calling the impeachment inquiry an attempted “coup.”

And Jordan — the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee — has appeared alongside GOP leaders at recent press conferences and made back-to-back appearances on the Sunday news shows since Democrats formally launched their impeachment probe.

Then there’s third-term Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, whose vigorous defenses of Trump have made their way on to the president’s Twitter feed.

“This is a kangaroo court. Because there has not been a vote to launch an impeachment inquiry. Because the minority does not have any rights for subpoenas. Because the president doesn’t have the right to have counsel present to ask questions,” Zeldin said Tuesday, as a smiling Meadows and Jordan looked on. “This entire thing is a political charade, is a clown show.”

Also gathered at the impromptu press conference was Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), a member of the Freedom Caucus, and Gaetz, a conservative firebrand who has caught Trump’s eye as a frequent guest on Fox News.

But it’s not just the rank-and-file members who are helping Trump. Top members of House GOP leadership have also taken on a prominent role leading the impeachment defense strategy.

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) are trying to shape the narrative to focus on process concerns and are backing a censure resolution to formally condemn Schiff. And despite some grumblings in the House GOP about McCarthy’s rough performance on CBS’ “60 Minutes” in late September, where he struggled to answer impeachment questions, Trump has heaped nothing but praise on the California Republican, who has also embraced Trump’s heated rhetoric referring to impeachment as a “coup.”

After McCarthy fired off a letter calling on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to halt the impeachment probe until she answers questions about the process, Trump tweeted back: “Leader McCarthy, we look forward to you soon becoming Speaker of the House. The Do Nothing Dems don’t have a chance!”

Across the Capitol, Sen. Lindsey Graham – who has emerged as a close Trump ally, despite some ups and downs – is also taking aggressive steps to defend the president. The South Carolina Republican on Tuesday even invited Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, essentially giving him a platform to air his unfounded allegations about the Biden family.

“I have heard on numerous occasions disturbing allegations by Rudy Giuliani about corruption in Ukraine and the many improprieties surrounding the firing of former Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin," Graham said in a statement. “Given the House of Representatives’ behavior, it is time for the Senate to inquire about corruption and other improprieties involving Ukraine."

Kyle Cheney contributed to this story.