Republicans show signs of discomfort in defense of Trump  

Republicans, even as they generally show support for President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump in new ad: 'The death toll is still rising.' 'The president is playing golf' Brazil surpasses Russia with second-highest coronavirus case count in the world Trump slams Sessions: 'You had no courage & ruined many lives' 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 WalshABC's Whoopi Goldberg to headline Biden fundraiser with Sen. Tammy Duckworth Trump shares video of protesters confronting reporter: 'FAKE NEWS IS NOT ESSENTIAL' Trump mocks Amash over White House bid 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) WeldThe Hill's Campaign Report: Amash moves toward Libertarian presidential bid Libertarians view Amash as potential 2020 game changer for party Trump becomes presumptive GOP nominee after sweeping primaries 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 ThuneOn The Money: Jobless rate exceeds 20 percent in three states | Senate goes on break without passing small business loan fix | Biden pledges to not raise taxes on those making under 0K Senate leaves for break without passing Paycheck Protection Program fix McConnell in talks with Gardner to allow Senate to take Memorial Day recess 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 RomneyTrump, GOP go all-in on anti-China strategy Senate panel approves Trump nominee under investigation Pelosi, Democrats press case for mail-in voting amid Trump attacks MORE (R-Utah), the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, called Trump’s actions "troubling," Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiRepublicans push for help for renewable energy, fossil fuel industries The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Mnuchin: More COVID-19 congressional action ahead Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day MORE (R-Alaska) said the phone call was "very concerning," and Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseHillicon Valley: Lawmakers demand answers on Chinese COVID hacks | Biden re-ups criticism of Amazon | House Dem bill seeks to limit microtargeting Lawmakers ask for briefings on Chinese targeting of coronavirus research On The Money: GOP senators heed Fed chair's call for more relief | Rollout of new anti-redlining laws spark confusion in banking industry | Nearly half of American households have lost employment income during pandemic 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 AmodeiBipartisan lawmakers call for Postal Service relief Mnuchin details IRS challenges with cash-only marijuana businesses On The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare 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 TurnerUtah governor signs bill protecting businesses from coronavirus lawsuits House GOP bill would block lawsuits by workers sickened with virus  The Hill's Campaign Report: Amash moves toward Libertarian presidential bid 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 MaguireTop intel official leaving post Grenell announces creation of intelligence community 'cyber executive' Ratcliffe refuses to say whether Russian election interference favored Trump 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 CollinsThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Surgeon General stresses need to invest much more in public health infrastructure, during and after COVID-19; Fauci hopeful vaccine could be deployed in December Republicans push for help for renewable energy, fossil fuel industries Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day 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 BluntSenators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day GOP senators: More relief needed now Top Republican says Trump greenlit budget fix for VA health care 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 BidenBiden slams Trump in new ad: 'The death toll is still rising.' 'The president is playing golf' Warren to host high-dollar fundraiser for Biden COVID-19 makes Trump's work with black Americans that much harder MORE or his son Hunter Biden. 

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonHouse chair threatens subpoenas if Pompeo doesn't provide Biden docs he gave Senate GOP Senate confirms Ratcliffe to be Trump's spy chief Schumer dubs GOP 'conspiracy caucus' amid Obama-era probes MORE (R-Wis.) called the partial transcript a “nothing burger,” Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden seeks to tamp down controversy over remarks about black support African American figures slam Biden on 'you ain't black' comments Biden regrets remarks about black support: 'I shouldn't have been such a wise guy' MORE (R-S.C.) suggested the whistleblower complaint was “hearsay” and Sen. John CornynJohn CornynHillicon Valley: Lawmakers demand answers on Chinese COVID hacks | Biden re-ups criticism of Amazon | House Dem bill seeks to limit microtargeting Lawmakers ask for briefings on Chinese targeting of coronavirus research Tensions flare over GOP's Obama probes 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 Flake'Never Trump' Republicans: Fringe, or force to be reckoned with? The Memo: Can the Never Trumpers succeed? Former GOP Sen. Jeff Flake says he will not vote for Trump 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.”