Pressure grows on GOP leaders to hold line ahead of impeachment trial

Senate Republicans say GOP unity during the upcoming House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearings will be critical to setting the tone ahead of a likely Senate trial.

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said if House Republicans unanimously vote against impeachment, that would make it “less likely any senator would jump ship.”

One senior GOP senator said that if House Republicans stay unified against articles of impeachment, the Senate Republican Conference will do the same.

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“As long as no House Republicans vote for the articles of impeachment, I don’t expect any [GOP] senators to,” the senior senator said.

All of that puts more pressure on McCarthy and other House GOP leaders to keep their troops in line and ensure there are no detractors over the next few weeks. A floor vote on articles of impeachment is expected before the end of the month.

Not a single Republican voted for the House resolution in October that formalized the rules for the impeachment inquiry against President Trump, and GOP lawmakers and strategists argue that there were no earth-shattering revelations in the subsequent hearings.

“Nothing that has come forward has reached the threshold level to where it’s really changed anything,” he said, adding that he hasn’t seen any increased support for impeachment among constituents.

McCarthy told The Hill in an interview last month that his leadership team has kept the House GOP conference together by keeping rank-and-file members as informed as possible.

“Each member makes their own mind up, but you’ve got to make sure that they are able to see all sides,” he said.

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House Republicans have also pointed to member briefings that Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) has held to keep everyone on the same page.

After spending a week in their home states for the Thanksgiving recess, GOP senators say political support for impeaching Trump has only weakened since the public hearings in the House.

“From the polling I’ve seen, Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schiff are sort of losing ground,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), referring to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).

A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll found that 65 percent of U.S. adults said the House hearings wouldn’t change their minds on impeachment.

The same poll found an even split on the question of impeachment — 45 percent in support, 44 percent against.

An Emerson poll last month showed independents swinging against impeachment, with 49 percent opposed and 34 percent in favor, a significant reversal compared to October when the same survey found 48 percent of independents in support.

While the numbers could swing back the other way, Senate Republicans are becoming more confident as partisan battle lines become even more entrenched.

“The longer this goes on, I think the more and more people are going to get tired of it,” Cornyn said.

Grover Norquist, the anti-tax leader who hosts a weekly gathering of conservative activists, said Monday that he doesn’t see any Republicans in the House or Senate breaking ranks to vote for articles of impeachment.

“I think it’s extremely unlikely that any [Republican] in the House or Senate would look at this thing and say anything other than it’s thoroughly political,” he said.

“I think it’s true that if the [Republicans] all hold in the House then the Senate all holds,” he added, while noting that Republican-turned-Independent Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.) could vote for impeachment.

Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist, said it’s “helpful” to keep Senate Republicans unified “if the House stays unified” because “there’s protection in numbers.”

He said “there is a lot of pressure” not to be the first Republican to break ranks and vote with the Democrats on impeachment.

“It’s not like if you vote with the Democrats somehow you’re going to be rewarded for it,” he added. “Voting with the Democrats will probably hurt you more than voting with the Republicans, even if you’re in a swing district.”

“The closer we get to next year’s elections, what we’re seeing in the polling is that voters basically don’t want their vote taken away from them,” O’Connell said, alluding to the argument that voting to remove Trump from office before Election Day would effectively circumvent the electoral process.

Chip Saltsman, another GOP strategist, said voting for articles of impeachment would be a career-defining move for a Republican lawmaker that would likely spur primary challenges.

“I think Republican support has gotten better,” Saltsman said of polling showing that the Republican base is rallying behind Trump.

“Do they really want the prospects of a contentious, expensive Republican primary staring them in the face before they have to worry about a general election?” Saltsman said of the political danger facing any Republicans who vote to impeach Trump.

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“It’s a career-defining vote if you vote for [impeachment],” he added.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said he would be “shocked” if any House Republicans vote for impeachment, adding that he thinks it’s clear the House and Senate votes will fall along party lines.

“I think we all know the result, which is [why] it’s kind of unfortunate the House is even going through this process,” he said.

Many Senate Republicans say U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s testimony before the House last month, which some observers described as containing “bombshell” revelations, has failed to alter the political terrain in the Senate.

They say Trump’s decision to release military aide to Ukraine and the fact that Kyiv never went ahead with an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden cuts the legs out from the House Democrats’ case.

When asked if Sondland’s testimony had strengthened the case against Trump, Johnson responded, “I don’t think so, not basically.”

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“Maybe added a little bit of information. It was all based on his assumptions, presumptions,” Johnson said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), another Trump ally, dismissed Sondland as an unreliable witness, pointing out that Sondland left out key details in his original testimony and later updated it substantially after claiming that other witnesses refreshed his memory.

“I’m very suspicious of anybody [who] all of a sudden remembers something that was obvious to be remembered,” Graham said.

“He says it’s now widely known, open secret, that everybody was in on it that there was going to be no meeting unless there was an investigation. Why didn’t he say that the first time?” Graham added, referring to Sondland’s revised testimony saying senior officials throughout the Trump administration knew that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was not going to get a coveted meeting with Trump unless he agreed to investigate Biden.

“I’ve sort of written that off,” Graham said.

Meanwhile, potential Senate swing votes such as Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) aren’t giving any hints about which way they are leaning. Instead they are letting the political process play out.

“I’m just not commenting on evidence that comes out day by day. I’ll look at all of the evidence in depth when it’s presented to the Senate,” Romney said.

Juliegrace Brufke contributed.

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Written by Alan Smith

Alan Smith

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