Republicans show signs of discomfort in defense of Trump  

Republicans, even as they generally show support for President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi arrives in Jordan with bipartisan congressional delegation Trump says his Doral resort will no longer host G-7 after backlash CNN's Anderson Cooper mocks WH press secretary over Fox News interview MORE, are showing signs of discomfort amid an impeachment fight that has engulfed the country. 

The battle over Trump's actions toward Ukraine marks the biggest test to date for Republicans, who are juggling the president’s demand for loyalty with questions about his push for a foreign government to investigate a political rival.

While the party has largely rallied behind him against the Democrats' impeachment push, there are some signs of cracks just days into the scandal that is likely to dominate the rest of 2019.

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The strongest criticism, unsurprisingly, is coming from a cohort of GOP pundits, 2020 rivals and Republican governors, who have less to lose than their congressional counterparts by going toe-to-toe with Trump. 

Former Illinois Rep. Joe WalshJoe WalshGOP presidential challengers condemn decision to host G-7 at Trump resort One person shows up to Trump challenger Mark Sanford's formal 2020 campaign kickoff George Conway accuses Trump of being a 'sociopath' MORE, who is running against Trump for the GOP’s 2020 nomination, told CNN on Friday that it was “quite literally like he’s giving his middle finger to the American people.” Former Massachusetts Gov. William WeldWilliam (Bill) WeldTrump accuses media, Democrats of going 'crazy' over G-7 at his Miami resort GOP presidential challengers condemn decision to host G-7 at Trump resort One person shows up to Trump challenger Mark Sanford's formal 2020 campaign kickoff MORE, another GOP hopeful, said Trump’s actions on Ukraine were “grounds for removal from office.” 

A slew of pundits — including The New York Times’s David Brooks and Bill Kristol, a prominent Trump critic — have admonished Trump. And two Republican governors — Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker — have thrown their support behind an impeachment inquiry.

Baker called the allegations against Trump a “deeply disturbing situation” and said it was “the proper role and responsibility for Congress at this point is to investigate it.” 

Trump and the White House can probably shrug off such criticisms, saying they are coming from opportunists, fringe candidates or Republicans representing blue states. 

But some of the other more measured remarks about the unfolding Ukraine story that are coming from Republican lawmakers may be getting their attention. 

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate War of words at the White House Lawmakers toast Greta Van Susteren's new show MORE (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters when asked about Trump pressing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to help dig up dirt on his potential 2020 opponent that he didn’t “like seeing that.”

“I just think the idea of a conversation like that,” he said. “I know this president operates in different ways ... but you know, obviously, like I said before, it's not something I would bring up. But at least the suggestion about what was proposed there … is still not some place I would go.” 

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyErdoğan got the best of Trump, experts warn Trump tweets ad hitting Romney as 'Democrat secret asset' Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump insists Turkey wants cease-fire | Fighting continues in Syrian town | Pentagon chief headed to Mideast | Mattis responds to criticism from Trump MORE (R-Utah), the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, called Trump’s actions "troubling," Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump says his Doral resort will no longer host G-7 after backlash Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes MORE (R-Alaska) said the phone call was "very concerning," and Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric Sasse NBA commissioner says China asked league to fire Rocket's GM Lawmakers set to host fundraisers focused on Nats' World Series trip Hong Kong protesters trample, burn LeBron James jerseys in wake of comments MORE (R-Neb.), after viewing the whistleblower complaint, warned Republicans against "rushing to circle the wagons to say there's no there there when there's obviously lots that's very troubling there."

In the House, Rep. Mark AmodeiMark Eugene AmodeiGOP group calls out five House Republicans to speak up on Ukraine The Memo: Will impeachment create an even more polarized nation? GOP lawmaker clarifies he doesn't back impeachment after voicing support for inquiry MORE (R-Nev.) on Friday became the first House Republican to support an impeachment inquiry, though he made it clear he does not back impeachment itself.

Rep. Mike TurnerMichael Ray TurnerHouse questions Volker as impeachment probe ramps up Republicans show signs of discomfort in defense of Trump   GOP battens down the hatches after release of Trump whistleblower complaint MORE (R-Ohio) used a public hearing to knock the Democrats for moving forward with impeachment but also called out Trump during the wall-to-wall coverage. 

“I want to say to the president this is not OK. That conversation is not OK. And I think it's disappointing to the American public when they read the transcript,” he said while acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph MaguireJoseph MaguireSecond intel official considering filing complaint over Trump: report Overnight Defense: State approves M weapons sale to Ukraine | Pompeo rejects Dem demands for officials' testimony | Dems worry about whistleblower's safety | US, North Korea to hold talks Democrats warn GOP, Trump putting whistleblower safety at risk MORE was testifying before the House Intelligence Committee. 

After The Washington Post reported that Trump said the whistleblower was “close to a spy,” GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes MORE (Maine), who has refrained from commenting on impeachment, pushed back on the president’s comments, calling them a “gross mischaracterization of whistleblowers.” 

Even as Trump has dismissed the whistleblower complaint as a "witch hunt" and referred to his call with Zelensky as "perfect," the Senate unanimously passed a resolution asking for him to turn the complaint over, and the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee has already started its own investigation. 

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Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate GOP braces for impeachment trial 'roller coaster' Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes MORE (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership and the committee, said after briefings with Maguire and the intelligence community's inspector general that he was “not ready to make any conclusions.” 

“We're committed to gather the information before we reach conclusions. Other people who don't have this responsibility can reach conclusions right away,” he said, adding that he wanted and expected the committee to meet with the whistleblower. 

The signs of GOP wariness about aligning too closely with Trump come even as most Republicans have pivoted quickly to argue that House Democrats are overplaying their hand by starting the formal impeachment proceedings, questioned the validity of the whistleblower behind the complaint, or even floated investigating former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenCNN's Anderson Cooper mocks WH press secretary over Fox News interview Yang cautions Democrats: Impeachment might not be 'successful' Ocasio-Cortez: Sanders' heart attack was a 'gut check' moment MORE or his son Hunter Biden. 

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonAmbassador Gordon Sondland arrives on Capitol Hill for testimony in impeachment inquiry GOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate Sondland could provide more clues on Ukraine controversy MORE (R-Wis.) called the partial transcript a “nothing burger,” Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottBlood cancer patients deserve equal access to the cure Rand Paul: 'We deserve to know' identity of Trump whistleblower Bottom Line MORE (R-S.C.) suggested the whistleblower complaint was “hearsay” and Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump slams 'very dumb' O'Rourke for proposals on guns, tax exempt status for churches GOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate Succession at DHS up in the air as Trump set to nominate new head MORE (R-Texas) questioned if individuals who shared information with the whistleblower were leaking classified information. 

But some Republicans have suggested members of their party are standing by Trump not because they support him but because they are afraid of a high-profile break with the president, who is known for relishing public feuds and lashing out at his critics. 

Former Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump's GOP impeachment firewall holds strong How to survive an impeachment Are Senate Republicans certain that Trump can return to office? MORE (R-Ariz.), who was one of Trump’s most vocal critics while in the Senate, said he personally wasn’t a fan of impeachment but predicted that 35 of his former GOP colleagues would vote to impeach Trump if they could do so as part of a secret vote. 

“Anybody who has sat through two years, as I have, of Republican luncheons realizes that there's not a lot of love for the president,” Flake said during an interview with NPR’s “Here and Now.” “There's a lot of fear of what it means to go against the president, but most Republican senators would not like to be dealing with this for another year or another five years.”

Asked why he was one of the only Senate Republican criticizing Trump, Romney also appeared to suggest that some of his colleagues were making a political calculation. 

“There's such enormous power associated with being the party in power, both in the White House as well as in the Senate and the House,” Romney said during the Atlantic Festival. “I think it’s very natural for people to look at circumstances and see them in the light that’s most amenable to their maintaining power and doing things to preserve that power.”