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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Rep. Chuck Fleischmann answers questions during an editorial board meeting at the Chattanooga Times Free Press Thursday, January 2, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Insisting that President Donald Trump did "absolutely nothing wrong" in his dealings with Ukrainian President Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelensky last summer, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., called the impeachment vote in the U.S. House last month one of the saddest days in his 10 years in Congress.

The Chattanooga Republican said he read the transcripts of Trump's telephone call and other documents and supports the president's actions. Fleischmann said he believes the Democrats' attempts at impeachment will be unsuccessful and hurt Democrats in the November elections.

"I felt nothing was done wrong, and clearly nothing was impeachable," Fleischmann said Thursday during an interview with editors and reporters of the Times Free Press. "I felt the process on the House side was fundamentally flawed, and when I left the House floor after that vote, it really hurt me deeply."

The U.S. House voted 230-197 last month to impeach the president on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress stemming from his appeal to Ukraine to "do a favor" and investigate one of his political rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

Trump temporarily held up $400 million of military aid, but ultimately provided the U.S. assistance. Democrats claim Trump improperly tried to use a foreign government to influence U.S. elections.

Fleischmann said the president uses a different style and negotiating process than Washington is used to and what he personally uses. But Fleischmann insisted there was no wrongdoing by Trump and fears the impeachment attempt will spark similar politically driven attempts to oust presidents of the other party from office.

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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Rep. Chuck Fleischmann answers questions during an editorial board meeting at the Chattanooga Times Free Press Thursday, January 2, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

"I felt so bad that we were eroding the fabric of this Republic with this impeachment because — separate and distinct from Donald Trump — we've got to think about the executive branch and the fact that in the future, someone in that office will likely face impeachment from another party because of the politics of this process," he said.

Fleischmann said Trump is more popular in Tennessee today than he was when he was elected in 2016 even though he out-polled Democrat Hillary Clinton by a 26 percentage points in Tennessee in the last election.

Despite the divisive battle over Trump's impeachment, Fleischmann said there is virtually no chance the GOP-controlled Senate will vote to convict Trump of the impeachment charges and remove him from office.

Even amid the deeply partisan differences over impeachment, the U.S. House in the same week passed some of the year's most significant legislation by approving a budget for fiscal 2020 and voting to ratify a new trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiated under former President Bill Clinton.

Fleischmann said the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) will create more jobs in Tennessee and said Trump's negotiations with China are helping open up one of the world's biggest markets for more U.S. goods, including a pledge by China to buy $40 billion a year of U.S. agricultural products.

Fleischmann said the new budget is "very favorable" for the Department of Energy facilities in Oak Ridge, which receives more than $6 billion of research, cleanup and weapons development funding, and for ongoing work for a new replacement lock at the Chickamauga Dam.

"I think I am in a very good position for the people I serve as a ranking member of a subcommittee on the appropriations committee," Fleischmann said. "I think I work very well with both sides of the aisle in the House and with our counterparts in the Senate, as well as with the administration."

At a time when Middle Tennessee is home to Tennessee's governor, newest senator and the two leading GOP candidates for the only other statewide office, Fleischmann said he hopes to maintain a political voice in the state for East Tennessee after the departure from the U.S. Senate last year of Bob Corker of Chattanooga and the retirement next year of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Maryville, Tennessee. Alexander's retirement from the Senate after 18 years will leave Fleischmann as the only Congressional appropriator among the state's nine House and two senate members.

If the GOP regains control of the House, Fleischmann will become what is known as one of the "cardinals" that helps determine funding levels for key federal agencies as Congress develops the federal budget each year.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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