Senators fret over prospect of Trump trial

The launching of a House impeachment inquiry against President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Anderson Cooper: Trump's Bubba Wallace tweet was 'racist, just plain and simple' Beats by Dre announces deal with Bubba Wallace, defends him after Trump remarks Overnight Defense: DOD reportedly eyeing Confederate flag ban | House military spending bill blocks wall funding 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 ClintonHillicon Valley: QAnon scores wins, creating GOP problem | Supreme Court upholds regulation banning robocalls to cellphones | Foreign hackers take aim at homebound Americans | Uber acquires Postmates The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's job approval erodes among groups that powered his 2016 victory Gallup: Trump's job approval rating erodes among key groups MORE in the 2016 presidential race such as Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court orders Dakota Access Pipeline to shut down | Energy companies cancel Atlantic Coast Pipeline | House rejects Trump cuts, proposes boost for environmental agencies Senate outlook slides for GOP Trump nominee faces Senate hurdles to securing public lands post MORE (R-Colo.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCollins trails Democrat Sara Gideon by 4 in Maine Senate race: poll Senate outlook slides for GOP Trump sealed his own fate 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: Trump's job approval erodes among groups that powered his 2016 victory Cunningham sets Senate fundraising record in North Carolina in challenge to Tillis Senate outlook slides for GOP MORE (N.C.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstTrump renews culture war, putting GOP on edge The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's job approval erodes among groups that powered his 2016 victory Senate outlook slides for GOP MORE (Iowa) and Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Trump administration releases PPP loan data | Congress gears up for battle over expiring unemployment benefits | McConnell opens door to direct payments in next coronavirus bill Trump renews culture war, putting GOP on edge The Hill's Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Reid Wilson says political winners are governors who listened to scientists and public health experts; 12 states record new highs for seven-day case averages MORE (Ky.), the polarized electorate could help drive Republicans to the polls.


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 BidenTrump renews culture war, putting GOP on edge Atlanta mayor says she has tested positive for COVID-19 Trump downplaying sparks new criticism of COVID-19 response MORE.

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

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRussian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide Gianforte halts in-person campaigning after wife, running mate attend event with Guilfoyle QAnon scores wins, creating GOP problem 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.


“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 GrahamTrump renews culture war, putting GOP on edge Bubba Wallace responds to Trump: 'Even when it's HATE from the POTUS.. Love wins' Lindsey Graham defends NASCAR, Bubba Wallace amid Trump criticism 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 BarrBill BarrDemocrat asks Barr to preserve any records tied to environmental hacking probe Justice Dept. considering replacing outgoing US attorney in Brooklyn with Barr deputy: report Ousted Manhattan US Attorney Berman to testify before House next week 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 ThuneTrump second-term plans remain a mystery to GOP Republicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names McConnell: Trump shouldn't veto defense bill over renaming Confederate bases 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 EsperDuckworth to block military confirmations until Esper proves Vindman will be promoted House panel votes to limit Trump's Germany withdrawal House panel votes to ban Confederate flag at Pentagon property MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHillicon Valley: QAnon scores wins, creating GOP problem | Supreme Court upholds regulation banning robocalls to cellphones | Foreign hackers take aim at homebound Americans | Uber acquires Postmates Senate Democrats urge Pompeo to ensure Americans living overseas can vote in November Trump administration praises UK sanctions on human rights abusers 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 SchumerChuck SchumerRussian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide Public awareness campaigns will protect the public during COVID-19 Republicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names 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 PortmanGrassley won't attend GOP convention amid coronavirus uptick The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democratic proposal to extend 0 unemployment checks Senate Democrats offer plan to extend added jobless benefits during pandemic 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.