WASHINGTON — Shunning contrition or reflection, eager to settle scores, President Trump spoke from the White House about the previous day’s Senate vote, which saw him acquitted on two articles of impeachment.
"It was all bulls**t,” Trump said of Democratic efforts to remove him from office, which culminated in impeachment but began more or less at the moment he entered the Oval Office.
“This should never, ever happen to another president,” he said, though some have predicted the very opposite, with impeachment potentially becoming a norm of presidential politics.
Speaking to a packed audience of White House staffers and congressional supporters, Trump lashed out at the “evil” and “corrupt” inquiry, which he said was led by “crooked cops.”
“We went through hell,” he said. “Unfairly.”
As he has from the start of the impeachment inquiry, Trump maintained that his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “perfect” and, in his view, preposterously insufficient grounds for impeachment.
“A very good phone call,” Trump said in his Thursday remarks. “I know bad phone calls."
The somewhat rambling address — which included an extended reference to former New York Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson — saw Trump congratulate the “warriors” who fought on his behalf. Foremost among them was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who presided over the Senate trial that concluded yesterday. Trump continued by also praising other senators and representatives in attendance, from Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who is one of the chamber’s most senior members, to Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, who was sworn in only last month.
Dogged supporters in the House came in for praise as well, especially since the Republican conference in that chamber has some avid pro-Trump members.
“He's the most legitimate human being,” the president said of Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.
“He is obviously very proud of his body,” the president said of Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, another close supporter of the president, famous for never wearing a suit jacket unless absolutely required to do so.
"Honestly, I think you're better looking now,” the president said of House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., an apparent reference to the weight Scalise lost after surviving a 2017 shooting.
In addition, he predicted that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., would soon become speaker of the House, surmising that in November the Democrats would lose their majority in that chamber, having squandered their political capital — in the president’s view — on impeachment.
He also criticized a wide array of political enemies, from lead impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (“a vicious, horrible person”) to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a frequent critic of the president. He called former FBI director James Comey, whom he fired early in 2017, a “sleazebag” and reprised a conspiracy theory regarding Hillary Clinton’s emails from her time as secretary of state.
“They’re vicious as hell,” he said of his political opponents, “and they’ll probably come back for more,” he mused, a reference to ongoing Democratic investigations of the Trump administration.
“They want to destroy our country,” he later said of Democratic leaders.
Neither the tone nor the contents of the address were exactly a surprise. Shortly after the Senate voted to acquit him, Trump branded the verdict “our Country’s VICTORY” in a tweet that called the impeachment inquiry a “Hoax,” a term he had previously used to describe special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into electoral interference.
Wednesday also saw White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham release a statement that called the impeachment inquiry “yet another witch-hunt that deprived the President of his due process rights and was based on a series of lies.”
Grisham’s statement also wondered whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Schiff would pay a price for attempting to remove Trump from office.
“Will there be no retribution?” she wrote.
So far, the White House response has been marked by its combative tone, a departure from the last time a president avoided removal from office via impeachment. In 1999, a just-acquitted Bill Clinton used a White House address to apologize for the actions and statements that led to his impeachment.
Richard Nixon took three years to apologize for Watergate, which led him to step down from the presidency in 1974. “Yep, I let the American people down and have to carry that burden with me for the rest of my life,” he told the British journalist David Frost in 1977.
Trump’s response thus far has been closest to that of Andrew Johnson, who was impeached in 1868 and, like both Trump and Clinton, survived the effort.
“I have nothing to regret,” Johnson said as he left office in 1869.
For the most part, Trump has reserved his ire since Wednesday’s acquittal for Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the sole Republican to vote in favor of conviction. In doing so, he became the only senator in U.S. history to vote in favor of convicting a president from his own party in an impeachment trial. By joining Democrats, he kept Trump from claiming that impeachment was a fully partisan affair.
That has plainly been irritating Trump, who called Romney a “failed presidential candidate” during Thursday’s remarks at the White House, in reference to the senator’s unsuccessful 2012 White House bid. He added that Romney “can’t stand the fact he ran one of the worst races in presidential history.”
Trump had been significantly less tempered in the preceding hours. On Wednesday evening, he shared a video on Twitter that branded Romney a turncoat while also reminding people of Romney’s loss to President Barack Obama nearly eight years ago. “Had failed presidential candidate @MittRomney devoted the same energy and anger to defeating a faltering Barack Obama as he sanctimoniously does to me, he could have won the election,” he said in a subsequent message.
Speaking on Thursday morning ahead of his White House address at the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump continued his attacks on the Utah senator, though without naming him. “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” Trump said. The reference was to Romney’s being a Mormon, which Romney had referenced in remarks on the Senate floor ahead of his historic vote.
“As a senator-juror, I swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice,” Romney said in those widely watched remarks. “I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential.”
The notion of a former Republican candidate for president becoming a Democratic hero was, indeed, a surprising development. Speaking at her weekly press conference on Wednesday morning, Pelosi praised a man with whom she has almost nothing in common politically or culturally.
“God bless him for his courage,” Pelosi said of Romney. She branded Trump’s attacks on the lone Republican dissenter as “without class.”
Virtually nothing Trump said on Thursday suggested that a reconciliation with the party that impeached him was in the works, though the president did briefly muse about what the two political parties could accomplish if partisan fight could have been put aside.
He listed infrastructure and prescription drug pricing as potential areas of cooperation while lamenting the three contentious years that have been squandered.
“Think,” he said, “what we could’ve done.”
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