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 GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi considers adding GOP voices to Jan. 6 panel Ex-Rep. Abby Finkenauer running for Senate in Iowa 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 McConnellGrassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa House Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate Democrats question GOP shift on vaccines 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 CornynDACA court ruling puts weight of immigration reform on Democrats Schumer feels pressure from all sides on spending strategy Data reveal big opportunity to finish the vaccine job 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 PortmanSunday shows - Jan. 6 investigation dominates Senate Republican 'not happy' with Pelosi plan to delay infrastructure vote Sunday shows preview: Bipartisan infrastructure talks drag on; Democrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe 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 AlexanderLamar AlexanderAuthorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain 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 RischJim Elroy RischSenate panel advances controversial public lands nominee in tie vote GOP senators invite Yellen to brief them on debt ceiling expiration, inflation Top Democrat leads bipartisan trip to Middle East 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 ErnstGrassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa Republicans focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change Biden signs bill to bolster crime victims fund MORE (R-Iowa) and Cory GardnerCory GardnerEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Biden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms 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 JohnsonGrassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa Sunday shows preview: Bipartisan infrastructure talks drag on; Democrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe Democrats question GOP shift on vaccines MORE (R-Wis.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDACA court ruling puts weight of immigration reform on Democrats Senate braces for a nasty debt ceiling fight Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor 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 PelosiMcCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel Pelosi taps Kinzinger to serve on Jan. 6 panel 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 RomneyTransit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal Schumer leaves door open for second vote on bipartisan infrastructure deal Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor MORE (R-Utah), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTransit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal The Hill's Morning Report - Infrastructure vote fails; partisan feud erupts over Jan. 6 panel Senate falling behind on infrastructure MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiWhy Biden's Interior Department isn't shutting down oil and gas Biden signs bill to bolster crime victims fund Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback 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.”