Biden administration officials are saying there is “no evidence” to corroborate claims behind the GOP’s impeachment inquiry. And they’re saying it often.
“We look forward to working with Republicans in a bipartisan way to actually deal with issues that matter to Americans,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday. “Real issues that matter to Americans, not this baseless effort that they have continuing to do that shows no evidence.”
That was one of five times Jean-Pierre said “no evidence” during the afternoon news briefing. It was uttered two more times by reporters during their questions, indicating they were already familiar with it.
The White House issued a 16-page memo on Wednesday morning urging the press to ramp up scrutiny, not of the president, but of the impeachment inquiry. “No evidence” appeared 14 times in the document.
All of that is very much by design, says Democratic strategist Brad Bannon.
“Repetition is the key to success in politics,” Bannon, who stresses message discipline in his work, said. “Americans are distracted. They don’t focus very much on what’s happening in Washington. And for that reason, it’s very important to repeat your message.”
If you’re going to repeat the same phrase over and over endlessly, it’s crucial to get that phrase right. This is often done through extensive behind-the-scenes work before any voter hears the magic words.
For example, President Joe Biden began talking about “ultra-MAGA” Republicans ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. The White House initially claimed it was “the president’s phrase,” but ultra-MAGA was later revealed to be the result of a six-month research investigation led by Democratic messaging guru Anita Dunn.
This time, it’s “no evidence,” and it’s not just White House officials saying it.
House Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-MA) said, “This impeachment is based on no evidence of wrongdoing by President Biden.” Rep. Dan Goldman (D-NY) claimed, “There is no evidence to link Joe Biden to anything related to his son.” Biden campaign spokesman Ammar Moussa said, “Several members of the Speaker’s own conference have come out and publicly panned impeachment as a political stunt, pointing out there is no evidence.”
The news website Mediaite ran a story about a parade of CNN personalities using the phrase, especially with Republican guests.
Ironically, “no evidence” bears similarities with a phrase the Trump administration used to defend itself from Russian election interference allegations — no collusion.
Then as now, repetition was key. Trump’s attorney general, Bill Barr, once repeated a version of “no collusion” 16 times in a 22-minute press conference.
At the height of the Trump-Russia speculation, Trump greeted reporters with “no collusion” rather than saying hello.
Instead of saying “hi” Trump now greets people with, “no collusion, no collusion.” pic.twitter.com/Pj70oF0DgG
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 20, 2019
Just as Democrats then thought there was collusion, Republicans now think there is plenty of evidence. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) detailed what he calls the four facts at the heart of the inquiry.
“The first is Hunter Biden was put on the Burisma board. Second, he was put on that board with no qualifications. Third, Burisma asked him, ‘Can you weigh in with D.C. to relieve the pressure we’re under from the prosecutor here in Ukraine?’ And fourth, Joe Biden did just that,” Jordan said.
The public has its own skepticism.
A CNN poll found that most people believe Biden was involved with his son’s foreign business dealings.
BJ Martino, president and CEO of The Tarrance Group, said a breakdown of the poll’s numbers likely reveals the White House’s strategy.
“From the polling perspective, I’d say that the effort to drive the ‘no evidence’ line is aimed at those voters who already believe something unethical occurred, but it did not to the level of being illegal,” he said.
While 61% of respondents believe Joe Biden had at least some involvement in Hunter Biden’s dealings, just 42% say he acted illegally. Another 38% say they don’t believe Joe Biden had any involvement at all, and 18% think the president was involved but did not break the law.
That last group is the key.
“In the middle are 18% who say he was involved and his actions were unethical but not illegal,” Martino said. “Those are the voters everyone is going to be speaking to over the course of the inquiry.”