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Republicans show signs of discomfort in defense of Trump  

Republicans, even as they generally show support for President TrumpDonald TrumpFacebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP Section 230 worked after the insurrection, but not before: How to regulate social media 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 WalshSacha Baron Cohen pens op-ed on the dangers of conspiracy theories Sunday shows preview: Protests continue over shooting of Blake; coronavirus legislation talks remain at impasse Republicans officially renominate Trump for president 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) WeldRalph Gants, chief justice of Massachusetts supreme court, dies at 65 The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden visits Kenosha | Trump's double-voting suggestion draws fire | Facebook clamps down on election ads Biden picks up endorsements from nearly 100 Republicans 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 ThuneImpeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP For platform regulation Congress should use a European cheat sheet Streamlining the process of prior authorization for medical and surgical procedures 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 RomneyImpeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history MORE (R-Utah), the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, called Trump’s actions "troubling," Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiImpeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history MORE (R-Alaska) said the phone call was "very concerning," and Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseSasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP Democratic super PAC targets Hawley, Cruz in new ad blitz Hotel cancels Hawley fundraiser after Capitol riot: 'We are horrified' 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 AmodeiHouse Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit Bipartisan lawmakers call for Postal Service relief Mnuchin details IRS challenges with cash-only marijuana businesses 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 TurnerOvernight Defense: Mike Rogers slated to be top House Armed Services Republican | Defense bill hits another snag | Pentagon dinged for 0M loan to trucking company using COVID funds Mike Rogers set to serve as top House Armed Services Republican Democratic lawmakers lambast Trump over Esper firing as GOP remains mum 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 MaguireJudge dismisses Nunes's defamation suit against Washington Post Retired Navy admiral behind bin Laden raid says he voted for Biden Congressional Democrats request FBI briefing on foreign election interference efforts 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 CollinsImpeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time 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 BluntUS Chamber of Commerce to stop supporting some lawmakers following the Capitol riots Senate to be briefed on inauguration security after Capitol attack This week: Democrats barrel toward Trump impeachment after Capitol attack 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 BidenMissouri woman seen with Pelosi sign charged in connection with Capitol riots Facebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP MORE or his son Hunter Biden. 

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senators call for commission to investigate Capitol attack Wisconsin Democrats make ad buy calling on Johnson to resign Efforts to secure elections likely to gain ground in Democrat-controlled Congress MORE (R-Wis.) called the partial transcript a “nothing burger,” Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottMcConnell says he's undecided on whether to vote to convict Trump McConnell won't reprise role as chief Trump defender GOP Sen. Tim Scott opposes impeaching Trump MORE (R-S.C.) suggested the whistleblower complaint was “hearsay” and Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCruz, Cornyn to attend Biden inauguration McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Rick Scott will 'likely' join challenge to election results 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 FlakeCindy McCain on possible GOP censure: 'I think I'm going to make T-shirts' Arizona state GOP moves to censure Cindy McCain, Jeff Flake Arizona county's Republican committee debates censuring Cindy McCain 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.”