US Republicans lost a key gubernatorial race and conceded a set of state legislatures in state elections that were also seen as the first test of President Donald Trump’s mounting troubles stemming from the impeachment inquiry, which has not been going too well for him.
A key witness in the ongoing inquiry changed his stand on Tuesday and told Congressional investigators that he had asked Ukrainian officials that they had to give President Trump what he wanted, a public announcement of investigation of corruption, to unblock almost $400 million in military aid it was supposed to get.
But first, the elections. Matt Bevin, the Republican governor of Kentucky, lost to Democrat Andy Beshear in an upset defeat largely due to his own unpopularity. But President Trump, who had put his full weight behind Bevin and held an election rally for him on Monday, will end up shouldering some of the blame, especially from critics.
Republicans also conceded the assembly and senate in Virginia for the first time in a quarter of a century. Democrats are now in charge of all the major statewide offices in Virginia, a state that was once considered Republican but has turned into a swing state with a sharp rise in Democratic voters.
These reverses for the Republican party came a year after it lost control of the US House of Representatives to Democrats in the 2018 mid-term elections. Republicans are seen to be losing support in cities and in the suburbs largely on account of the divisive brand of politics popularised by Trump.
There had been no reactions from Trump himself till late in the night. His 2020 campaign claimed credit for the other victories in Kentucky and said the “President just about dragged Governor Matt Bevin across the finish line, helping him run stronger than expected in what turned into a very close race at the end”.
Earlier in the day, another Trump-loyalist handed the president a fresh set of troubles. US ambassador to EU Gordon Sondland told impeachment investigators that he had indeed conveyed to an Ukrainian official that there were conditions that had to be met to get the security aid, laying out, in effect, a quid pro quo that the president and his allies have denied.
“I said that resumption of the US aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” Sondland said. He is a wealthy hotelier from Oregon, who donated generously to Trump’s campaign and was given the prestigious ambassadorship as a reward.
The Trump administration is alleged to have pushed Ukraine to order an investigation against former Vice-President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden about latter’s association with a Ukrainian company.
Sondland did not, however, connect the quid pro quo to the president. The White House did point it out in a reaction. “He did not know, (and still does not know) when, why or by whom the aid was suspended,” a spokesperson said, adding, “He also said he presumed there was a link to the aid—but cannot identify any solid source for that assumption”.