QUINCY -- U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood says he hasn't seen enough "facts and evidence" to convince him that President Donald Trump deserves to be impeached.
In a wide-ranging interview Friday with The Herald-Whig, the Republican congressman from Peoria representing the 18th District says the U.S. House of Representatives faces a high bar in proving conclusively that Trump should be impeached for treason, bribery or other "high crimes and misdemeanors" as spelled out in the Constitution.
"You don't move forward with a case unless you have the facts and evidence to back it up," LaHood said. "Thus far, I have not seen anything that causes me to believe that we ought to impeach the president."
LaHood said the investigative report released earlier this year by special prosecutor Robert Mueller failed to convince him that the president committed "high crimes and misdemeanors," even though the report suggested that obstruction of justice may have occurred in 10 or more instances.
Likewise, the more recent House impeachment inquiry into Trump's request that the president of Ukraine "do us a favor though" by investigating one of Trump's top political opponents -- former Vice President Joe Biden -- hasn't proved to LaHood that an impeachable offense took place.
"I've read the transcript" released by the White House of Trump's telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, LaHood said. "I never saw that there was any quid pro quo, and I don't think the facts and evidence have backed that up."
LaHood, a former federal prosecutor, is looking for "the elements of a crime that qualify, and give us the facts and evidence, to move forward as the predicate for impeachment," he said. "In that transcript, in that whistleblower report, to me I don't see what qualifies for that. I see a conversation, but I don't see the ‘give me this and I'll give you that.' "
LaHood said it's conceivable that more facts and evidence will emerge as the investigation continues, and he will be ready to give the matter objective analysis if articles of impeachment are eventually presented to the full House of Representatives for a vote.
If and when that time comes, "I'm going to take it very seriously. I'm going to follow the rules and laws that are in place with that," he said.
"I will be looking for facts and evidence that support an impeachable offense. And what is that? To me, high crimes and misdemeanors is the absolute highest standard we ought to be looking at in terms of an impeachable offense. I want to see what those facts and evidence are and then balance that with the fact that you're nullifying an election and you're taking away the will of the people in a democracy" by removing an elected president from office.
LaHood also discussed his opposition to Trump's decision this week to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria -- a move that triggered an assault by Turkey on Kurdish forces that were long considered a U.S. ally.
LaHood said he immediately spoke out against the president's decision.
"I think it's the wrong approach," he said. "I think it sends a terrible message to our allies and to people who are with us on the battlefield that helped us defeat ISIS and were side-by-side with us in Syria when no one else was."
LaHood said he thought "there were other options available instead of pulling out and letting Turkey come in" and overrun the Kurds.
LaHood said when Congress reconvenes on Tuesday, he expects the Senate will take up a bill to impose sanctions on Turkey.
"It's got strong bipartisan support. I think it could pass and come over to the House," he said. "If there's a vote on sanctions for Turkey, I'm going to support it."
LaHood has been touring the 18th District this week to meet with constituents on a wide range of topics. He was in Springfield on Tuesday, in Bloomington-Normal on Wednesday and in Peoria on Thursday before swinging into Western Illinois for stops Friday in Macomb and Quincy.
LaHood said he spoke with the new interim president of Western Illinois University about agriculture research and some of the enrollment and financial difficulties the university has been facing.
He also met with some farmers, manufacturers and business leaders at various stops.
LaHood said he keeps hearing concerns about the need for "workforce development" to help train workers for jobs that are going unfilled.
"With a relatively strong economy and low unemployment, it's probably the No. 1 issue I hear as I travel around my district," he said. "There are not enough truck drivers, not enough welders, not enough machinists, technicians, nurses. There's a real gap out there."
LaHood also has been hearing many concerns from farmers about the impact of tariffs and the lack of effective trade agreements with other nations.
"There is a lot of anxiety and stress in the ag community right now -- for a variety of reasons," he said.
"I don't think the farmers in my district have abandoned Trump by any means. I think they still generally support him," LaHood said. "But we're three years into the administration, and we really have no successful trade agreements that we've negotiated."
He also says farmers are frustrated by the trade war with China that has erupted over tariffs.
"I'm not a fan of tariffs," he said. "Tariffs are taxes on consumers, taxes on businesses. I think they generally hurt our economy long-term."
LaHood fears that the trade war with China "could really slow down the economy," which has been booming.
"I don't necessarily like the going-at-it-alone approach," LaHood said.
"I wish we had partnered with the Europeans, the Japanese, the Koreans. They have the same issues with the Chinese. So we're in this dilemma now. It's really a balancing act of how far do you go with these tariffs in racheting up the trade war when you know that it's hurting farmers, hurting manufacturers, hurting other industries."