Senators fret over prospect of Trump trial

The launching of a House impeachment inquiry against President TrumpDonald John TrumpLev Parnas implicates Rick Perry, says Giuliani had him pressure Ukraine to announce Biden probe Saudi Arabia paid 0 million for cost of US troops in area Parnas claims ex-Trump attorney visited him in jail, asked him to sacrifice himself for president 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 ClintonFormer Vermont Governor: Sanders 'will play dirty' NYT: Justice investigating alleged Comey leak of years-old classified info New Hampshire state lawmaker switches support from Warren to Klobuchar MORE in the 2016 presidential race such as Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerKoch network could target almost 200 races in 2020, official says Hickenlooper raised .8 million for Colorado Senate bid in fourth quarter of 2019 Lawmakers introduce bill to bolster artificial intelligence, quantum computing MORE (R-Colo.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPoll shows Collins displaces McConnell as most unpopular senator Collins says she's 'likely' to support calling witnesses for impeachment trial Democratic group plans mobile billboard targeting Collins on impeachment MORE (R-Maine).

Yet for GOP candidates running in states where Trump has a higher approval rating, such as Sens. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisKoch network could target almost 200 races in 2020, official says Tillis challenges eventual Democratic rival to five debates The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi says impeachment articles coming 'soon' as pressure builds MORE (N.C.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstDrug price outrage threatens to be liability for GOP Progressive groups target eight GOP senators in ad campaign ahead of impeachment trial GOP senators introduce resolution to change rules, dismiss impeachment without articles MORE (Iowa) and Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPoll shows Collins displaces McConnell as most unpopular senator Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti on impeachment: 'CNN can see through this nonsense' Trump says impeachment trial should move 'very quickly' 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 BidenLev Parnas implicates Rick Perry, says Giuliani had him pressure Ukraine to announce Biden probe Ex-Obama official on Sanders-Warren feud: 'I don't think it played out well for either of them' Parnas says he doesn't think that Joe Biden did anything wrong regarding Ukraine MORE.

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

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyCollins says she's 'likely' to support calling witnesses for impeachment trial Paul predicts no Republicans will vote to convict Trump Senate approves Trump trade deal with Canada, Mexico 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 GrahamDemocratic group plans mobile billboard targeting Collins on impeachment Paul predicts no Republicans will vote to convict Trump Roberts sworn in to preside over Trump impeachment trial 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 BarrParnas: Environment around Trump 'like a cult' Parnas says he's speaking out because of betrayal from associates: 'I felt like my family left me' Overnight Defense: GAO finds administration broke law by withholding Ukraine aid | Senate opens Trump trial | Pentagon to resume training Saudi students soon 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 ThuneSenate to vote on Trump's Canada, Mexico trade deal Thursday Senate braces for Trump impeachment trial Republicans face internal brawl over impeachment witnesses 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: GAO finds administration broke law by withholding Ukraine aid | Senate opens Trump trial | Pentagon to resume training Saudi students soon US military to soon resume training for Saudi students State Department cancels two classified congressional briefings on Iran, embassy security MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPompeo under pressure over threats to Yovanovitch Regardless of how the Iraqis feel, the US should leave Democrats clash at debate over keeping US troops in Mideast 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 SchumerSchumer votes against USMCA, citing climate implications Senators are politicians, not jurors — they should act like it GOP senator: 2020 candidates must recuse themselves from impeachment trial 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 PortmanSenate approves Trump trade deal with Canada, Mexico Republicans brush off Trump's call for impeachment dismissal GOP leadership: There aren't 51 votes to dismiss Trump articles of impeachment 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.