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 GrassleyGraham vows Biden, Ukraine probe after impeachment trial Social security emerges as latest flash point in Biden-Sanders tussle Trump to sign USMCA next Wednesday 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 capital. 

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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 House Democrats' impeachment probe. Democrats are investigating Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden, 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 upward, 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 OK 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 McConnellCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Impeachment throws curveball in Iowa to sidelined senators 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 CornynNadler gets under GOP's skin Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on Democrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public 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 PortmanSenate Republicans confident they'll win fight on witnesses Collins walks impeachment tightrope The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions 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 AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report — Dems detail case to remove Trump for abuse of power Senate Republicans confident they'll win fight on witnesses Administration to give Senate briefing on coronavirus 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 quash 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.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Senators ask FDA to crack down on non-dairy milks, cheeses MSNBC's Chris Hayes knocks senators for ducking out of impeachment trial: 'You can resign' 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 ErnstSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Grassley signs USMCA, sending it to Trump's desk Progressive group launches campaign targeting vulnerable GOP senators on impeachment MORE (R-Iowa) and Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerDemocrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Senate Republicans confident they'll win fight on witnesses Tensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum 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 during 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 McConnell, haven’t commented during the recess about Trump’s rhetoric. 

But that tactic 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 JohnsonGraham vows Biden, Ukraine probe after impeachment trial GOP warns of 'drawn out' executive privilege battle over Bolton testimony  Senate Republicans confident they'll win fight on witnesses MORE (R-Wis.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Schiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment MORE (R-S.C.), have routinely dismissed the growing list of allegations against the president. Graham is planning to send a letter to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Social Security emerges as flash point in Biden-Sanders fight | Dems urge Supreme Court to save consumer agency | Trump to sign USMCA next week Veronica Escobar to give Spanish-language response to Trump State of the Union address 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 RomneyOvernight Defense: Veterans group seeks Trump apology for comments on brain injuries | Pentagon says dozens of troops suffered traumatic injuries after attack | Trump unveils Space Force logo Lindsey Graham will oppose subpoena of Hunter Biden Senators push Pentagon on Syria strategy after withdrawal uproar, Soleimani strike MORE (R-Utah), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Schiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Nadler calls Trump a 'dictator' on Senate floor 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 health care 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.”