Trump steps up GOP charm offensive as impeachment looms

President TrumpDonald TrumpRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Jake Ellzey defeats Trump-backed candidate in Texas House runoff DOJ declines to back Mo Brooks's defense against Swalwell's Capitol riot lawsuit MORE stepped up his charm offensive with Senate Republicans, who will handle any House impeachment charges, by meeting Thursday with a group of GOP lawmakers that included two of his biggest critics: Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyMichelle Obama to Simone Biles: 'We are proud of you and we are rooting for you' Aly Raisman defends former teammate Biles: 'I'm proud of her' Mitt Romney praises Simone Biles following withdrawal from team event MORE (Utah) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Health Care: CDC advises vaccinated to wear masks in high-risk areas | Biden admin considering vaccine mandate for federal workers Eight Republicans join Democrats to confirm head of DOJ environmental division The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Crunch time for bipartisan plan; first Jan. 6 hearing today MORE (Maine).

Trump began the closed-door meeting by discussing the House impeachment proceedings and made reference to how hard it’s been to defend himself during the Democratic-controlled process.

He then quickly pivoted to topics GOP senators wanted to discuss, such as legislation to lower prescription drug costs, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal and proposals to curb vaping products. 

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Romney later praised the meeting as “delightful,” and Collins, who is up for reelection next year, said she got a chance to talk about one of her top priorities, prescription drug legislation.

“The vast majority of the discussion was on prescription drugs and vaping,” Collins said, who described Trump’s impeachment comments as “brief.”

Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoOfficials warn of cybersecurity vulnerabilities in water systems Graham, Hawley call on Judiciary Committee to hold hearing on US-Mexico border GOP senators urge Biden to keep Trump-era border restrictions MORE (R-W.Va.) said she got a chance to pitch the president on the KIDS Act, her bill to protect minors from sale for financial gain. 

“It was good,” she said. 

The discussion was the latest in a series of Thursday lunchtime meetings Trump has held with small groups of senators.

Senate Republicans have dismissed the notion that Trump is trying to butter them up before a likely impeachment trial and that his actions might diminish their impartiality.

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“We work together necessarily to pass legislation, so I don’t think getting together and having conversations about issues is anything wrong,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynBiden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on Eight Republicans join Democrats to confirm head of DOJ environmental division Federal officials abroad are unprotected — in a world of increasing volatility MORE (R-Texas). “I think senators will do their duty as they see it, regardless of a free lunch.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHouse to resume mask mandate after new CDC guidance Five takeaways from a bracing day of Jan. 6 testimony McCarthy, McConnell say they didn't watch Jan. 6 hearing MORE (R-Ky.) said Tuesday it’s “inconceivable” there would be 67 votes in the Senate to convict Trump on any impeachment charges and remove him from office.

But Trump’s defenders want to ensure there aren’t any GOP defections — just one would undercut their argument that the impeachment effort is a purely partisan exercise. Not a single Republican voted in the House for the resolution laying out the rules for the impeachment inquiry.

Last week, Trump previewed for a group of Senate Republicans a transcript of his April 21 phone call congratulating Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for his election victory before the document was made public.

This week, Trump made strides in his relationship with Romney and Collins, considered the GOP senators most likely to vote for any House-passed articles of impeachment.

The president shook hands with Romney on Thursday and betrayed no hint of lingering animosity from their public sparring, Romney said when recounting his interaction with Trump.

Just last month, Trump called Romney a “pompous ass who has been fighting me from the beginning.”

Romney on Thursday displayed no hard feelings and even joked to reporters about Trump’s insult: “That’s as accurate as it is irrelevant.”

“We’re friendly and cordial,” he said of his relationship with Trump.

Trump gave Romney a chance to pitch him on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) taking steps to curb flavored vaping products that are popular with kids and invited him to share his proposal with White House staff.

“I expressed my point of view, which is that I thought there is a great deal of support for removing the candy flavors,” Romney said. “I would hope the FDA would take action without having to wait for Congress because Congress is slower in terms of process and a lot of kids are getting addicted to these products.”

Other Republicans who attended Thursday's meeting were Sens. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyOvernight Health Care: CDC advises vaccinated to wear masks in high-risk areas | Biden admin considering vaccine mandate for federal workers Eight Republicans join Democrats to confirm head of DOJ environmental division Four senators call on Becerra to back importation of prescription drugs from Canada MORE (Iowa), James LankfordJames Paul LankfordAbbott slams Ben & Jerry's for Palestine support: 'Disgraceful' Democrat stalls Biden's border nominee Republican calls on Oklahoma to ban Ben & Jerry's MORE (Okla.), John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenGOP senators urge Biden to keep Trump-era border restrictions A plan to address the growing orphaned wells crisis Lobbying world MORE (N.D.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill GOP Rep. Cawthorn says he wants to 'prosecute' Fauci Writer: Fauci, Paul clash shouldn't distract from probe into COVID-19 origins MORE (Ky.).

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Capito said Trump gave senators his views on the impeachment process and reiterated complaints he has aired publicly.

“He’s understandably unable to defend himself. He feels that whatever’s come forward has been exactly what he says, useless,” Capito added.

Shortly before the meeting, Trump’s advisers met with another group of GOP senators to discuss the possibility of an impeachment trial.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone, senior White House adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerWashington Post calls on Democrats to subpoena Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Meadows for testimony on Jan. 6 Unsealed documents detail Trump and Biden efforts on reporter records 'Just say we won,' Giuliani told Trump aides on election night: book MORE and White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayAides who clashed with Giuliani intentionally gave him wrong time for Trump debate prep: book 7 conservative women who could replace Meghan McCain on 'The View' Karen Pence confirms move back to Indiana: 'No place like home' MORE met with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamEight Republicans join Democrats to confirm head of DOJ environmental division GOP sees debt ceiling as its leverage against Biden DACA court ruling puts weight of immigration reform on Democrats MORE (S.C.), Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate confirms Biden's Air Force secretary Trio of Senate Republicans urges Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade Biden signals tough stance on tech with antitrust picks MORE (Utah) and other GOP senators on the Judiciary panel to discuss impeachment strategy Thursday morning.

Graham said Trump’s lawyer and advisers wanted to get a sense of how a Senate trial would play out and even questioned whether the House will go ahead and pass articles of impeachment.

“I think they were curious as to like, ‘What are you thinking about?’” Graham said of the questions directed to senators from White House officials. “They think they’ve got a better than 50-50 [chance] that maybe this doesn’t happen in the House.”

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Graham said he told them that his “preference was to try to follow the Clinton model as much as possible.”

Many senators expect any impeachment trial for Trump to take about as long as the five-week Clinton trial.

During the 1999 impeachment trial of President Clinton, the Senate used the documentation of the House impeachment investigation as the trial record.

Graham said he told White House officials not to hold out hope that the Senate will dismiss articles of impeachment without a trial, something that would require 51 votes. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate.

“I don’t want them to believe there’s an ability to dismiss the case before it’s heard. I think most everybody agreed there’s not 51 votes to dismiss it before the managers get to call their case,” he said.

Under Senate Resolution 16, which laid out the parameters of the Clinton trial, House impeachment managers were given 24 hours to make their case for conviction and the president’s lawyers were given 24 hours to present their defense. Senators were then allowed to question the parties for up to 16 hours.

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The Washington Post reported that Thursday's meeting with GOP senators and senior White House officials included talk of capping a potential Trump trial at two weeks. But no final decision was reached, according to the Post.

The prospect of trial proceedings dragging on for weeks, stealing floor time from other issues, has some senators saying a quick trial might be better.

“The best thing for the country is to get this done quickly, but it’s got to be done in a way that is acceptable to the body,” Graham said.