Senators fret over prospect of Trump trial

The launching of a House impeachment inquiry against President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he will 'temporarily hold off' on declaring Mexican drug cartels as terror organization House Judiciary Committee formally receives impeachment report Artist behind gold toilet offered to Trump sells banana duct-taped to a wall for 0,000 MORE is raising the prospect of a Senate trial — unnerving senators already anxious about an election-year battle where the Senate majority could be up for grabs.

The worries cut both ways for Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.

Senators in both parties predict impeachment will further polarize the electorate, a troubling development for Republicans running in states won by Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonYang expands campaign with senior hires for digital operations Top GOP legislator in California leaves party GOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties MORE in the 2016 presidential race such as Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerGOP senators unveil bill to expand 'opportunity zone' reporting requirements Overnight Health Care: House to vote next week on drug prices bill | Conway says Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping | US spent trillion on hospitals in 2018 Giffords, Demand Justice to pressure GOP senators to reject Trump judicial pick MORE (R-Colo.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGiffords, Demand Justice to pressure GOP senators to reject Trump judicial pick Senate confirms eight Trump court picks in three days Lawmakers call for investigation into program meant to help student loan borrowers with disabilities MORE (R-Maine).

Yet for GOP candidates running in states where Trump has a higher approval rating, such as Sens. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats worry about diversity on next debate stage North Carolina congressman says he won't seek reelection after redistricting Overnight Health Care: House to vote next week on drug prices bill | Conway says Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping | US spent trillion on hospitals in 2018 MORE (N.C.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstGOP senators unveil bill to expand 'opportunity zone' reporting requirements Giffords, Demand Justice to pressure GOP senators to reject Trump judicial pick Democratic challenger to Joni Ernst releases ad depicting her as firing gun at him MORE (Iowa) and Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills GOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties MORE (Ky.), the polarized electorate could help drive Republicans to the polls.

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And impeachment proceedings could spell doom for Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat up for reelection in Alabama, one of the nation’s most pro-Trump states. 

Jones told The Hill on Wednesday that he’s not thinking about the impact on his reelection.

“It’s not a good day for the country when any impeachment inquiry is opened but the fact is we have to get facts out. That’s the main thing I pushed for,” Jones said. “The transcript is very troubling."

“This is not about an election,” he added. “This needs to be talked about [in terms of] the security of the country.”

Senate Republicans publicly defended Trump on Wednesday after the White House released a readout of his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but a number are also privately concerned about his efforts to pressure Zelensky to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse Judiciary Committee formally receives impeachment report Democratic strategist: 'Medicare for All' exposes generational gap within party Yang expands campaign with senior hires for digital operations MORE.

Very few are willing to challenge Trump publicly or criticize him behind closed doors with fellow GOP lawmakers.

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyStatesmen seek bipartisan solutions to big challenges Georgia ready for unpredictable Senate race Impeachment can't wait MORE (Utah) was the only Senate Republican to speak up at a lunch meeting of the Senate GOP conference Wednesday. He said he was troubled by the White House’s call record, according to colleagues in the room.

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“Clearly what we’ve seen from the transcript itself is deeply troubling,” Romney told reporters earlier in the day.

Romney was rebutted at the closed-door meeting by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties GOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution Hannity slams Stern for Clinton interview: 'Not the guy I grew up listening to' MORE (R-S.C.), a close Trump ally.

“I said I’m underwhelmed. I’m not troubled. I don’t think there is anything remotely quid pro quo,” Graham said, summarizing his remarks in the meeting defending Trump.

He described the mood by other Republicans in the room as “relief” when they saw the details of transcript.

Graham, who was given a preview of the Trump-Zelensky transcript from Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrSupreme Court denies Trump request to immediately resume federal executions 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 Biden gets in testy exchange in Iowa: 'You're a damn liar' MORE on Tuesday, said he had no intention of pursuing the matter.

“I don’t want to turn the Senate into a circus,” he said. “I think there’s a belief among Republicans [that] Democrats have lost their minds when it comes to Trump.”

Other Senate Republicans were less vocal than Romney but indicated more unease than Graham.

“Any time you’re talking to a leader about a subject like, yeah, those are sensitive matters,” said Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneCongress races to beat deadline on shutdown Hillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware Senators inch forward on federal privacy bill MORE (S.D.).

But Thune added that he didn’t think it would change most people’s minds or justify the House impeachment push.

Republicans in recent days have given themselves some daylight with Trump.

McConnell, the majority leader, told reporters Tuesday that he pressed Secretary of Defense Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Suspect in Pensacola shooting identified as Saudi aviation student | Trump speaks with Saudi king after shooting | Esper denies considering 14K deployment to Mideast Pentagon: Reports of 14K troop increase in Mideast 'flat out wrong' The Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump says he will 'temporarily hold off' on declaring Mexican drug cartels as terror organization West Bank annexation would endanger Israel's security House approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump MORE over the summer about the delay in sending foreign aid to Ukraine but didn’t receive an explanation for the holdup.  

Also on Tuesday, Republican leaders did not object to a sense-of-the-Senate resolution proposed by Democrats calling on Trump to release the complaint filed by an anonymous whistleblower with the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson.

Democrats were convinced the readout of the Trump-Zelensky call offered clear evidence that Trump abused his power to achieve personal gain.

“In this telephone conversation, the president of the United States made an extraordinary request to the president of Ukraine, to investigate Trump’s political opponent and aid President Trump’s reelection campaign,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law | Michigan governor seeks to pause Medicaid work requirements | New front in fight over Medicaid block grants House, Senate Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law Why a second Trump term and a Democratic Congress could be a nightmare scenario for the GOP MORE (D-N.Y.) said. “Does anyone think this conversation was in the national interest? Or was it in the president’s personal political interest?”

Some Republicans agreed the contents of the transcript made them uncomfortable.  

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanLawmakers call for investigation into program meant to help student loan borrowers with disabilities Senators sound alarm on dangers of ransomware attacks after briefing Senate roundtable showcases importance and needs of women entrepreneurs MORE (R-Ohio) said he would have preferred Trump not to have discussed a prominent political rival with Zelensky but he also criticized House Democrats for launching an impeachment inquiry before knowing the contents of the transcript.

“Would it have been better if he hadn’t brought up Biden’s name? Yes, I agree with that. But the rush to judgment by the other body I think is totally unwarranted,” he said.

Collins, a top Democratic target in 2020, said the transcript “raises a number of important questions” but added that she would not draw any conclusions on Trump’s conduct at this point.

“If there are articles of impeachment I would be a juror, and as a juror I think it’s inappropriate for me to reach conclusions about evidence or to comment on the proceedings in the House,” she told reporters.

Gardner was on his phone and unavailable to comment at a vote shortly before lunchtime. His office did not respond to a request for comment.

A Republican senator who requested anonymity expressed concern that the transcript will fuel the Democrats’ fervor to impeach Trump and blow up progress on bipartisan legislation.

“I’m concerned about the transcript because I want to get nutrition assistance done,” the lawmaker said.

Other senators staunchly defended Trump.

Tillis called the House impeachment inquiry “another pathetic attempt by Democrats to destroy President Trump with falsehoods to overturn the results of the 2016 election.”

Ernst dismissed the transcript as lacking incriminating evidence.

“The fact that House Democrats dove head first into an impeachment inquiry before seeing this transcript shows exactly what we’ve known all along: They are determined to impeach President Trump. I’ve looked at the transcript; I don’t see anything there,” she said.

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who faces reelection next year, said there was “nothing” in the transcript that backed up the whistleblower’s complaint.  

“I just am embarrassed, almost, that the Speaker would take this document, having not seen it, and take it to an impeachment conversation,” he said.

A moderate Democrat who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Hill said it would have been better if Pelosi had waited until after the transcript was made public but noted she was under tremendous pressure.

“I think it would have been smart to wait until she saw the transcript,” the senator said, adding, “I don’t think Speaker Pelosi had a choice.”

Jordain Carney contributed.