A digital billboard on Cleveland Avenue challenges Fort Myers voters to question President Donald Trump’s reaction to an impeachment inquiry.
The ad, paid for by Republicans For The Rule Of Law, shows Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former National Security Advisor John Bolton, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani with duct tape across their mouths. “What is Trump hiding?” the ad blares in loud type.
It’s a similar message to the one heard in broadcast ads appearing on Fox & Friends in Florida’s 19th Congressional District. Those spots, which started airing the first week of December, called on U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney to start questioning why the White House won’t produce critical witnesses to testify on Trump’s behalf.
This week, Rooney did just that.
Now the new ads no longer challenge him by name, though similar spots in U.S. Rep. John Katko’s district call the New York Republican out directly. Rule of Law spokesperson Carson Putnam says the group may release ads in Florida soon with a message like ‘Rep. Rooney is right” or thanking him for listening to their plea.
Sarah Longwell, executive director for the group, said to date, Rooney is the only Congressman in the country to respond to targeted ads by doing precisely what the group hopes for: demanding the White House stop fighting subpoenas and send firsthand witnesses to answer questions on communication between the White House and Ukraine.
“Polling shows 87 percent of Americans think these key witnesses should testify,” Longwell tells Florida Politics. “This is not a point anyone should just move on from.”
For Longwell, the testimony is more significant than even the issue of impeachment itself. She hopes members of Congress see the inherent threat of setting a precedent that an administration can ignore subpoenas.
“There are a lot of Republican Congressmen who if you ask them directly if Rudy Giuliani should testify, and you press them on it, they will say, yes, he should,” Longwell said.
In fact, House Democrats this week unveiled impeachment articles that include obstructing Congress’ investigation. It seems likely those will be voted on and sent to the Senate before any fight over subpoenas gets settled in court.
Rule of Law, the most prominent GOP voice in the country to support impeachment proceedings, asserts that adhering to subpoenas is a huge issue in and of itself.
“If Presidents can ignore subpoenas in the future, that is what they will do,” Longwell said. “If Congress can’t be a check, then the executive holds too much power.”
Longwell hopes if the witnesses never come forward for the House, that the Senate will demand they speak there.
“People have to be serious about getting facts,” she said.
The targeting of districts of GOP Congressman who have shown some interest in the investigation aims to rally bipartisan support for testimony. But Longwell also hopes to reach media in these markets. “I think part of the reason Congressman Rooney said something is that you asked,” she said.
Longwell said she’s disheartened to see so many Republican members of Congress dismiss impeachment.
“One of the frustrating things as a lifelong Republican, I came of age in the Clinton impeachment,” she said. “I remember Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell giving speeches about the importance of oversight and subpoenas, and that the President can’t lie to the American people. That was the party I wanted to be a part of. Now I hear them all saying the opposite, and partisanship is overtaking fidelity to these higher ideals.”