Trump steps up GOP charm offensive as impeachment looms
President Trump 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 Romney (Utah) and Susan Collins (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.
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 Capito (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.
“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 Cornyn (R-Texas). “I think senators will do their duty as they see it, regardless of a free lunch.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (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 Grassley (Iowa), James Lankford (Okla.), John Hoeven (N.D.) and Rand Paul (Ky.).
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 Kushner and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway met with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Sen. Mike Lee (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.”
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.
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.