GOP braces for impeachment brawl

After two weeks out of town, and largely away from the national media, GOP lawmakers are poised to be bombarded with questions when they return to Washington on Tuesday. 

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyPhRMA CEO warns Pelosi bill to lower drug prices would be ‘devastating’ for industry GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe On The Money: Judge tosses Trump lawsuit over NY tax return subpoena | US, Japan sign trade deals | Trump faces narrowing window for trade deals | NBA sparks anger with apology to China MORE (R-Iowa) said he hadn’t heard much about impeachment as he was traveling in Iowa during the break, but warned of a looming “impeachment cloud” in the Capitol. 

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“That’s all you hear about in Washington, D.C. …Washington is all about politics,” Grassley said during a conference call with reporters when asked about impeachment. 

The spotlight comes as Republicans are already facing multiple tension points with Trump, including his decision to pull back troops in northern Syria and a potential veto override attempt as soon as this week on a resolution ending his emergency declaration tied to the U.S.-Mexico border wall. 

Republicans, who have been scattered across the country during the congressional recess, will have their first chance to talk as a caucus on Wednesday, when they’ll hold their first closed-door lunch. 

Senate Republicans have largely lined up behind Trump in knocking the House Democrats impeachment probe. Democrats are investigating Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump hits Fox News’s Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage Schiff: Whistleblower testimony might not be necessary Trump warns Democrats will lose House seats over impeachment MORE, as well as allegations that he held up aid as part of the effort.

Though several polls have shown overall support for impeaching Trump to be ticking upwards, Republicans remain firmly opposed to removing him from office. A Fox News poll released last week found that 51 percent support impeaching Trump. By comparison, according to the same poll, only 13 percent of Republicans support removing Trump from office. 

But GOP senators have simultaneously contradicted each other about whether or not it was okay for Trump to ask a foreign government to investigate a political rival. 

Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist, said the White House has been “pretty uneven” itself on messaging, complicating the ability for lawmakers to know how to respond. 

“There’s not been a unified message or strategy, and I think the White House is to blame for a lot of that, and I would blame really more the president than anyone else,” he added. 

Some, including close allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Republicans wrestle with impeachment strategy Mattis warns ‘ISIS will resurge’ without U.S. pressure on Syria MORE (R-Ky.), have argued that while Trump’s call for a foreign government to investigate a rival was inappropriate, they don’t believe it warrants impeachment. 

“Do I wish President Trump hadn’t raised the issue with the Ukrainian president? Yes,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynOvernight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Judge blocks Trump ‘public charge’ rule | Appeals court skeptical of Trump arguments for Medicaid work requirements | CDC offers guidance for treating vaping-related cases GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Bottom Line MORE (R-Texas), a member of leadership who is up for reelection, wrote in a fundraising email. “But really, is it right for Democrats to now call for his removal from office over this?” 

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGOP senator: ‘Not appropriate’ to ask foreign governments to investigate Biden GOP senator says he doesn’t remember signing 2016 letter urging ‘reform’ of Ukraine prosecutor’s office Lobbying World MORE (R-Ohio), a counselor to McConnell, told an Ohio newspaper that it was “wrong” for Trump to bring up Biden with Ukraine, but that he didn’t view it as an impeachable offense. 

“It’s inappropriate for the president to be talking with foreign governments about investigating his political opponents, but impeachment would be a mistake,” added Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderMcConnell tightlipped as impeachment furor grows GOP senator: ‘Inappropriate’ to discuss opponents, but impeachment a ‘mistake’ The revolution has arrived in college admissions MORE (R-Tenn.), a retiring senator who is viewed as close to McConnell. 

Alexander added that because he would be a juror in a potential impeachment trial, he wouldn’t comment again until the fight comes to the Senate. 

Any effort to preemptively squash any impeachment questions could be a difficult stance to maintain once back in Washington. 

Some senators tried to sidestep questions in their home states, with a few of the encounters with reporters going viral.

Foreign Relations Committee Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria McConnell warns NBA to respect free speech on China Issa’s Senate confirmation hearing delayed over concerns about background check MORE (R-Idaho) caught the attention of national reporters after he refused to answer a question about Trump asking a foreign government to investigate Biden. 

When a reporter started to bring up the issue, Risch interrupted saying “I’m not going to do an interview on that.” 

“I’m not going there. If you want to have an interview with me about the business center, please do so,” Risch told Boise State Public Radio. 

Sens. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstRepublicans wrestle with impeachment strategy McConnell tightlipped as impeachment furor grows Iowa Democrat tops Ernst in third-quarter fundraising for Senate race MORE (R-Iowa) and Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerRepublicans wrestle with impeachment strategy McConnell tightlipped as impeachment furor grows Gardner dodges questions about Trump’s call for Biden probe MORE (R-Colo.), who are both up for reelection next year, also dodged questions. 

Ernst, pressed during a town hall hours after Trump publicly called for China and Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, demurred, saying that “the president is going to say what the president is going to do.”

Gardner, viewed as the most vulnerable GOP senator up for reelection, sidestepped several questions  an interview with local reporters. Instead, he knocked House Democrats for establishing a “partisan process” and accused reporters of only focusing on politics. 

A large swath of the caucus, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), haven’t commented during the recess about Trump’s rhetoric. 

But the tactic that will be next to impossible in the Capitol this week with a swarm of reporters asking questions. 

McConnell will be tasked with trying to get his members on the same page, even as they’ve taken contrasting positions during the two-week break. 

Some, including Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonBipartisan senators want federal plan for sharing more info on supply chain threats House Democrats subpoena Rick Perry in impeachment inquiry Trump faces growing GOP revolt on Syria MORE (R-Wis.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Democrats to offer resolution demanding Trump reverse Syria decision Army officer calls Syria pullback ‘a stain on the American conscience’ MORE (R-S.C.), have routinely dismissed the growing list of allegations against the president. Graham is planning to send a letter to House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden on impeachment: ‘I’m the only reason’ it’s happening Democrats to offer resolution demanding Trump reverse Syria decision Rand Paul calls for probe of Democrats over Ukraine letter MORE (D-Calif.) warning that Republicans will not vote to remove Trump from office. 

“I want Nancy Pelosi to know that Republican senators are not going to impeach this president based on this transcript, so she can stop now before she destroys the country,” he said. 

Meanwhile, a group of GOP senators, including Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyVideo of fake Trump shooting members of media shown at his Miami resort: report Reid warns Democrats not to underestimate Trump McConnell tightlipped as impeachment furor grows MORE (R-Utah), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria McConnell tightlipped as impeachment furor grows Congress set for showdown with Trump over Kurds MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMurkowski warns against rushing to conclusions on Trump impeachment GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Republicans show signs of discomfort in defense of Trump   MORE (R-Alaska), have raised concerns about Trump’s rhetoric and warned against rushing to judgement on impeachment, even as McConnell and other GOP colleagues are vowing to prevent it. 

Murkowski, speaking during a recent healthcare event in Alaska, said it was “troubling … that even before there has been any considered review, that people have decided.” 

Collins echoed her while talking to her reporters in Maine late last week. 

“I am amazed that some of my colleagues have already made up their minds one way or the other before all the evidence is in and before the facts are known,” she said. “I think that’s entirely inappropriate whether they’re for impeachment or against impeachment.” 

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