Senators fret over prospect of Trump trial

The launching of a House impeachment inquiry against President TrumpDonald TrumpChinese apps could face subpoenas, bans under Biden executive order: report Kim says North Korea needs to be 'prepared' for 'confrontation' with US Ex-Colorado GOP chair accused of stealing more than 0K from pro-Trump PAC 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 ClintonVirginia governor's race poses crucial test for GOP Hillary Clinton backs Shontel Brown in Ohio congressional race Hillary Clinton: Casting doubt on 2020 election is 'doing Putin's work' MORE in the 2016 presidential race such as Sens. Cory GardnerCory GardnerBiden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 MORE (R-Colo.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate confirms Radhika Fox to lead EPA's water office Pelosi says she's giving Senate more time on Jan. 6 commission Overnight Energy: Schumer to trigger reconciliation process Wednesday | Bipartisan bill would ban 'forever chemicals' in cosmetics | Biden admin eyes step toward Trump-era proposal for uranium reserve 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 Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? On The Money: Yellen, Powell brush off inflation fears | Fed keeps rates steady, upgrades growth projections Bipartisan infrastructure group grows to 21 senators MORE (N.C.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstOvernight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US Meghan McCain: Harris 'sounded like a moron' discussing immigration Senate bill would add visas, remove hurdles to program for Afghans who helped US MORE (Iowa) and Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell shoots down Manchin's voting compromise Environmental groups urge congressional leaders to leave climate provisions in infrastructure package Loeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run 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 BidenChinese apps could face subpoenas, bans under Biden executive order: report OVERNIGHT ENERGY:  EPA announces new clean air advisors after firing Trump appointees |  Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior | Watchdog: Bureau of Land Management saw messaging failures, understaffing during pandemic Poll: Majority back blanket student loan forgiveness MORE.

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

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? China's genocide must be stopped How Biden can get the infrastructure bill through Congress 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 GrahamOVERNIGHT ENERGY:  EPA announces new clean air advisors after firing Trump appointees |  Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior | Watchdog: Bureau of Land Management saw messaging failures, understaffing during pandemic Graham, Whitehouse: Global transition to renewables would help national security Hillicon Valley: Senate unanimously confirms Chris Inglis as first White House cyber czar | Scrutiny mounts on Microsoft's surveillance technology | Senators unveil bill to crack down on cyber criminals 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 BarrThe Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? Senate Judiciary Democrats demand DOJ turn over Trump obstruction memo Garland strikes down Trump-era asylum decisions 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 ThuneYellen: Disclosure of tax data to ProPublica a 'very serious situation' Sanders won't vote for bipartisan infrastructure deal Bipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right 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: Top admiral shoots back at criticism of 'woke' military | Military guns go missing | New White House strategy to battle domestic extremism Top admiral shoots back at criticism of 'woke' military: 'We are not weak' Cotton, Pentagon chief tangle over diversity training in military MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoThe Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? Nikki Haley warns Republicans on China: 'If they take Taiwan, it's all over' The Hill's Morning Report - Dems to go-it-alone on infrastructure as bipartisan plan falters 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 SchumerFive takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision Senate confirms Chris Inglis as first White House cyber czar Schumer vows to only pass infrastructure package that is 'a strong, bold climate bill' 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 PortmanThe Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? G-7 summit exposes incoherence of US foreign policy Senate panel unanimously advances key Biden cyber nominees 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.