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GOP vows to take new steps to protect Trump

Republicans are vowing more action after they stormed the secure impeachment hearing room last week, disrupting a deposition and grabbing headlines that were cheered by President TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE

The problem is they just don't know what to do next. 

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Republicans could continue to protest and disrupt future closed-door hearings, but that move has undermined their own complaints about the Democrats' impeachment process and raised concerns about the GOP violating security protocols. 

They’ve also tried to censure the Democrats’ point person on impeachment, Intelligence Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Trump pardons Flynn | Lawmakers lash out at decision | Pentagon nixes Thanksgiving dining hall meals due to COVID-19 Democratic impeachment leaders blast Trump's pardon of Flynn Trump pardons Michael Flynn MORE (D-Calif.); that vote failed along party lines. 

And top Republicans fired off a letter to Democrats, demanding that they call the anonymous whistleblower who triggered the impeachment probe to testify publicly; Democrats have ignored that letter and the whistleblower’s attorneys in an op-ed on Friday said there’s no reason for their client to given public testimony.

Across the Capitol, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBiden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden Let's give thanks to Republican defenders of democracy MORE (R-S.C.) has rolled out a resolution condemning Democrats’ secretive process, but it’s non-binding, meaning it will have no teeth or effect.

The GOP's “throw-everything-at-the-wall” strategy underscores the party's disadvantage in the impeachment fight — for now — as House Democrats flex their muscle and demonstrate the power that comes with holding the majority: They control the impeachment process, determine which witnesses to call, blast out subpoenas and set the calendar.

Democrats “control the flow of access and information. That’s the benefit of winning elections,” said one House GOP aide close to the impeachment fight.

The Democrats’ probe has produced powerful testimony from multiple State and national security officials that has painted a scathing picture of Trump and his allies withholding nearly $400 million in security aid from Ukraine until its government agreed to launch investigations into the president’s political rivals. 

Some rank-and-file Republicans privately have expressed frustration with Trump and the White House over a lack of long-term, overarching impeachment strategy. A recent White House strategy session between Trump and his staunch congressional allies produced little in the way of an impeachment game plan that could be shared with GOP members on Capitol Hill.

And while Trump has the bully pulpit, GOP allies argue, he doesn’t have a team in place dedicated to fighting Democrats’ month-old impeachment inquiry.  Trump’s son-in-law, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday Pompeo becomes first top US diplomat to visit Israeli settlement, labels boycotts anti-Semitic NYT's Bruni suggests Ivanka Trump, Kushner move to North Korea or Saudi Arabia MORE, has been involved in impeachment strategy talks, as have acting White House chief of staff Mike Mulvaney. But Mulvaney has been on thin ice ever since he admitted in a televised news conference the White House engaged in a quid pro quo, contradicting Trump on Ukraine; Mulvaney later walked back the comments.

Word leaked out Friday that the White House is considering hiring former Treasury Department spokesman Tony Sayegh or former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to lead communications and messaging efforts on the impeachment battle, which could stretch into December or January.

But Trump seemed to pour cold water on that idea, telling reporters hours later that he doesn’t need a “team” to fight back against the Democrats’ impeachment probe.

“Here’s the thing,” he said. “I don’t have teams. Everyone’s talking about teams. I’m the team. I did nothing wrong.”

What Trump has instructed his GOP allies to do is to get more aggressive against Democrats. At a Cabinet meeting, he called on Republicans “to get tougher and fight” back against impeachment.

Republican lawmakers did just that the very next morning.

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Protesting what they complained was Democrats’ secretive impeachment process, a brigade of roughly three dozen GOP lawmakers stormed the secure room in the Capitol basement  — known as the SCIF — and disrupted the deposition of a key Defense official for hours.

The publicity stunt, led by Trump loyalist Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzGaetz: Trump 'should pardon everyone' including himself to quash liberal 'bloodlust' Florida passes 850k coronavirus cases Florida GOP Rep. Mike Waltz tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (R-Fla.) and Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseTop Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon Richmond says GOP 'reluctant to stand up and tell the emperor he wears no clothes' New RSC chairman sees 'Trumpism' as future MORE (R-La.), captured the news cycle and halted momentum from Democrats who just a day earlier had heard explosive testimony from the acting ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor, that Trump had engaged in a quid pro quo. 

The storming of the SCIF did not go unnoticed by the president, who took to Twitter to applaud the move.

But the protest caused alarm for some Republicans. Several told The Hill they deliberately decided to skip the protest, and others raised concerns about lawmakers bringing their cellphones into a secure room where classified national security issues are discussed. Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump holds his last turkey pardon ceremony Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names Trump administration revives talk of action on birthright citizenship MORE (R-N.C.), who had been listening to the deposition, later said he collected his colleagues’ devices and brought them outside the room.

“If anybody brings a phone in, that’s a problem,” said Alabama Rep. Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersFormer GOP congressman calls for Biden to receive presidential briefings Democrats slam DHS chief for defying subpoena for testimony on worldwide threats Remembering 9/11 as we evaluate today's emerging threats MORE, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, who’s spent countless hours in the SCIF.

Schiff has vowed that the next phase of the impeachment process will be public, televised hearings, which will occur as soon as mid-November. Some Republicans are making the case that their party needs to think beyond one-off publicity stunts that draw attention to how Democrats are shutting out the public.

“There will be a public fight that plays out, so you need a substantive argument,” said one GOP source. 

One senior GOP aide said Friday there are “internal talks” about protesting and disrupting the next round of hearings this week. Lawmakers are vowing to continue fighting, though no final decision has been made on next steps.

“I can’t disclose anything right now. But we aren’t done fighting back,” Rep. Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneLawmakers grill Pentagon over Trump's Germany drawdown Bottom line Jerry Carl wins GOP Alabama runoff to replace Rep. Bradley Byrne MORE (R-Ala.), who is running for the Senate, told The Hill. 

“The fact that this is going on behind closed doors leaves us no choice but to do whatever we can to expose their sham process. We won’t be silenced.”