Scalise raises concerns about politically motivated impeachments

PHOTO: U.S. Representative Eliot Engel speaks at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Leadership Summit in Washington, DC. | U.S. representative Steve Scalise speaks at a press conference in the US Capitol.PlayMichael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
WATCH Ukraine call 'wasn't about the 2020 election': Rep. Steve Scalise

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel defended the Democrats' handling of the impeachment inquiry, calling the president's actions on Ukraine "essentially" a bribe, while Republican Whip Steve Scalise said the inquiry is nothing like what Presidents Bill Clinton or Richard Nixon faced.

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"Let's look at what he's done, no other president in American history has done something like that," Engel, D-N.Y., said on ABC's "This Week" Sunday. "He tried to essentially bribe a foreign power to interfere in U.S. elections."

Scalise, R-La., insisted in a separate interview with ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos that the July phone call between President Donald Trump and the president of Ukraine was not about the 2020 election or investigating political opponents.

"That's not what was happening on the phone call," Scalise said. "Even when the president said, 'will you do me a favor,' he went on to ask about CrowdStrike. That wasn't about Joe Biden."

"It wasn't about a political opponent, it was about corruption that happened prior," he said, adding that Trump's asking China to investigate Biden later was "rhetorical" and an effort "to get the press riled up."

Later in the interview, Stephanopoulos said, "The only two instances he raised were Crowdstrike in 2016, involving the Democrats, Burisma in 2017 and '18 involving Joe Biden. And again it's just a very simple question, do you think it's appropriate for the president to ask the Ukrainians or the Chinese, which he's also done in public, to investigate his domestic political opponents?"

Scalise responded, "Well, first of all on that call he was not talking about the 2020 election or political opponents, he was talking about corruption relating to the 2016 elections."

Stephanopoulos pressed, "And again it's just a very simple question, do you think it's appropriate for the president to ask the Ukrainians or the Chinese, which he's also done in public, to investigate his domestic political opponents?"

Scalise said, "Well, first of all on that call he was not talking about the 2020 election or political opponents, he was talking about corruption relating to the 2016 elections."

PHOTO: U.S. Representative Eliot Engel speaks at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Leadership Summit in Washington, DC. | U.S. representative Steve Scalise speaks at a press conference in the US Capitol. Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
U.S. Representative Eliot Engel speaks at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Leadership Summit in Washington, DC. | U.S. representative Steve Scalise speaks at a press conference in the US Capitol.

In a historic vote on Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a resolution to authorize the impeachment inquiry and lay out guidelines for the next steps in the process. The vote was mostly along party lines, with two Democrats joining Republicans to vote against the measure.

Trump slammed the vote during his Mississippi campaign rally on Friday, calling it "an attack on democracy itself."

On "This Week," Scalise also responded to Engel by saying that the rules for the impeachment inquiry outlined in that resolution were "nothing like" the ones in the Clinton and Nixon impeachment proceedings, invoking Alexander Hamilton's concern about politically motivated impeachments.

"(Democrats) don't want fair rules, they just want to hurt President Trump's chances to win re-election," he said, adding that the resolution gives Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff the power to veto Republican witnesses or remove the president's legal counsel.

"It's all about reversing the results of 2016 election," Scalise said. "There are no high crimes or misdemeanors."

When Stephanopoulos asked Scalise which witnesses he would call, the Republican whip listed the original whistleblower.

The Foreign Affairs Committee chairman said Republicans keep "moving the goalpost."

"They tell us they want us to be transparent, when we're transparent they tell us it's not good enough," Engel said. "The president will have every right, all his protections there."

Engel also said that transcripts of the closed-door depositions would be made public this week and that public hearings would begin "very very soon."

And, in response to a floor speech he gave during the Clinton impeachment proceedings in which he asked what good an impeachment inquiry would do if Clinton remained president, Engel said that this situation was different.

"It's not a matter of will (impeachment) be successful or whatever -- that's secondary," he said. "The question you have to ask is did the president really sell out his country with a bribe to a foreign power to get involved in the president's personal political election."

When asked about a new ABC/Washington Post poll finding that 50% of Americans disapprove of how the Democrats are handling impeachment, Engel said, "I think sometimes you have to do the right thing and not worry so much about the polls."