Trump steps up GOP charm offensive as impeachment looms

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate US sending 20,000 troops to Europe for largest exercises since Cold War Barr criticizes FBI, says it's possible agents acted in 'bad faith' in Trump probe 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 RomneyPotential Dem defectors face pressure on impeachment Athlete Peter Frates dies of ALS after becoming face of Ice Bucket Challenge Ex-Rep. Scott Taylor to seek old Virginia seat MORE (Utah) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDefense bill includes fix for military families' survivor benefits Potential Dem defectors face pressure on impeachment The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - A crucial week on impeachment 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 CapitoGOP senators unveil bill to expand 'opportunity zone' reporting requirements ICE emerges as stumbling block in government funding talks Congress braces for chaotic December 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 CornynLighthizer starts GOP charm offensive on Trump trade deal Houston police chief excoriates McConnell, Cornyn and Cruz on gun violence GOP senators worry Trump made 'problematic' concessions in trade deal 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 McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by UANI — House Dems charge Trump with abuse, obstruction of Congress in impeachment articles Senate must take up Voting Rights Advancement Act without delay Krystal Ball: Is this how Bernie Sanders will break the establishment? 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 GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyLighthizer starts GOP charm offensive on Trump trade deal Bottom line Graham: FBI investigation in 2016 turned into a 'criminal conspiracy' MORE (Iowa), James LankfordJames Paul LankfordTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Israeli, Palestinian business leaders seek Trump boost for investment project The Hill's Morning Report — Schiff: Clear evidence of a quid pro quo MORE (Okla.), John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenBottom Line The Hill's Morning Report — Schiff: Clear evidence of a quid pro quo Trump steps up GOP charm offensive as impeachment looms MORE (N.D.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPelosi gets standing ovation at Kennedy Center Honors Senate braces for brawl on Trump impeachment rules Trump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans 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 KushnerThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - Democrats to release articles of impeachment today On The Money: White House, Dems edge closer to trade deal | GOP worries about Trump concessions | DOJ argues Congress can't sue Trump on emoluments | Former Fed chief Volcker dies White House, Democrats edge closer to deal on trade MORE and White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayGrocery store behind viral reusable bag at impeachment hearing offers 'free briefcase' promotion Watchdog report finds FBI not motivated by political bias in Trump probe GOP counsel raises eyebrows with shopping bag at impeachment hearing MORE met with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: FBI investigation in 2016 turned into a 'criminal conspiracy' This week: House impeachment inquiry hits crucial stretch Senate braces for brawl on Trump impeachment rules MORE (S.C.), Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate braces for brawl on Trump impeachment rules Hillicon Valley: Pelosi works to remove legal protections for tech companies from USMCA | Treasury sanctions Russian group over 0 million hack | Facebook sues Chinese individuals for ad fraud | Huawei takes legal action against FCC Senators defend bipartisan bill on facial recognition as cities crack down 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.