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 GrassleyFalling investment revives attacks against Trump's tax cuts Overnight Health Care: CDC links vitamin E oil to vaping illnesses | White House calls Pelosi drug price plan 'unworkable' | Dem offers bill for state-based 'Medicare for All' White House says Pelosi plan to lower drug prices 'unworkable' 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 McConnellLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Biden not ruling out Senate voting to impeach Trump: 'It will depend on what their constituency says' Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate 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 CornynFalling investment revives attacks against Trump's tax cuts GOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump says Dems shouldn't hold public hearings 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 PortmanRepublicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump GOP lawmakers fear Trump becoming too consumed by impeachment fight Synagogues ramp up security in year since Tree of Life shooting 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 AlexanderJuan Williams: Republicans flee Trump Romney, Collins, Murkowski only Senate GOP holdouts on Graham's impeachment resolution The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by Better Medicare Alliance — Impeachment angst growing in GOP 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 RischOvernight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Trump encounters GOP resistance to investigating Hunter Biden Graham: Schiff comment on inquiry findings 'full of crap' 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 ErnstThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry GOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week Senate talks on stalled Violence Against Women Act reauthorization unravel MORE (R-Iowa) and Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Progressive veterans group launches campaign labeling Trump as a 'national security threat' It's time for Congress to establish a national mental health crisis number 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 JohnsonLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Sunday shows — New impeachment phase dominates Rand Paul says Trump has 'every right' to withhold Ukraine aid over corruption MORE (R-Wis.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Trump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition The Hill's Morning Report - Impeachment drama will dominate this week 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 PelosiDemocrats sharpen their message on impeachment Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate Siren song of impeachment lures Democrats toward election doom 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 RomneyClub for Growth extends advertising against House Dems over impeachment Pennsylvania's other election-night story This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry MORE (R-Utah), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Senate panel clears controversial Trump court pick Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry GOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week Pay America's Coast Guard 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.”