McConnell tightlipped as impeachment furor grows

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP senators confident Trump pick to be confirmed by November Trump's Teflon problem: Nothing sticks, including the 'wins' Senate Republican says lawmakers can't 'boil down' what a Court nominee would do in one case like Roe v. Wade MORE (R-Ky.) is keeping a low profile amid the growing impeachment battle surrounding the White House over President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Ocasio-Cortez: Trump contributed less in taxes 'than waitresses and undocumented immigrants' Third judge orders Postal Service to halt delivery cuts MORE’s political dealings with foreign governments.

McConnell made news in the first days of the two-week congressional recess, when he said he would have “no choice” but to move impeachment if the House sends over articles. 

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Since then, however, he’s largely gone quiet, turning his attention to issues like opioid funding, getting money for Fort Campbell and judicial nominations. 

McConnell held an event last week in Kentucky with Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperTrump, Pentagon collide over anti-diversity training push Overnight Defense: Stopgap spending measure awaits Senate vote | Trump nominates former Nunes aide for intelligence community watchdog | Trump extends ban on racial discrimination training to contractors, military Overnight Defense: Pentagon redirects pandemic funding to defense contractors | US planning for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May | Anti-Trump GOP group puts ads in military papers MORE, a day after Trump publicly floated that China and Ukraine should investigate Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. But reporters were removed from the event before the audience was allowed to ask questions. 

The GOP leader also skipped taking questions from reporters this week when speaking at a Federalist Society meeting in Kentucky, as well as a separate event with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar touting a grant for the University of Kentucky. 

Asked about McConnell’s thinking and why he’s decided not to weigh in directly on Trump’s calls for Ukraine and China to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Biden campaign sells 'I paid more income taxes than Trump' stickers Trump, Biden have one debate goal: Don't lose MORE, a spokesman declined to comment beyond what McConnell has said on the record. 

The relative silence from McConnell — known for being a cautious but sharp strategist — comes as Republican senators dispersed across the country have offered different views on Trump. 

McConnell told Politico last month that Democratic criticism of a partial transcript of Trump’s call with Ukranian President Zelensky was “laughable,” but he’s offered no public comment since then directly responding to Trump’s suggestions of investigations by Ukraine. He also hasn’t weighed in on reports suggesting top administration and Cabinet officials are involved in the decision to temporarily block Ukraine aid. 

“Mitch McConnell has learned there is no point in weighing in on every story,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said in a discussion on McConnell’s actions. 

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House Democrats are at the start of an impeachment inquiry centered on Trump's dealings with Ukraine, including a request that the Ukrainian government work with the president's personal lawyer, Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiTrump says Christie, Giuliani assisting debate prep The Hill's Campaign Report: GOP set to ask SCOTUS to limit mail-in voting CIA found Putin 'probably directing' campaign against Biden: report MORE, to investigate the Bidens. Two men who allegedly aided Giuliani’s efforts to investigate Biden were arrested on campaign finance violation charges on Wednesday. 

They are also probing allegations that the president tried to withhold aid to Ukraine in an effort to get Kiev to launch such a probe.

McConnell has been more comfortable taking shots at Democrats over their impeachment inquiry. 

His campaign began Facebook ads shortly after House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi preparing for House to decide presidency if neither Trump or Biden win electoral college: report Trump seeks boost from seniors with 0 drug discount coupons GOP senators confident Trump pick to be confirmed by November MORE (D-Calif.) formally announced an impeachment inquiry painting himself, and the GOP Senate, as a roadblock to removing Trump from office. 

“Nancy Pelosi’s in the clutches of a left wing mob. They finally convinced her to impeach the president. All of you know your Constitution, the way that impeachment stops is a Senate majority with me as majority leader,” McConnell said in the ad. 

McConnell does not mention the allegations surrounding the president's communication with Ukraine in the video.

During his Federalist Society speech he compared the fight over impeachment to the battle to confirm Trump’s judicial picks, saying “some people think of it as a judicial-type proceeding. It's a political decision.”

And he knocked Democrats in a statement after the White House warned that it would not cooperate with the impeachment probe unless Pelosi holds a formal vote on the floor to open the inquiry. Democrats argue the vote isn’t required. 

“So far, the House has fallen far short by failing to follow the same basic procedures that it has followed for every other President in our history,” he said in a statement that did not directly mention impeachment or the White House strategy. 

The willingness to weigh in on impeachment, but not on Trump’s request for a Biden probe, comes as Republicans voters are still overwhelmingly opposed on efforts to remove Trump from office, despite growing support among voters overall. 

A Fox News poll released this week found that 51 percent supporting impeaching Trump. By comparison, according to the same poll, only 13 percent of Republicans support removing from office. 

McConnell’s relative silence could reflect the fact that his conference is at least somewhat divided on how to handle questions about Trump’s conduct. The Senate would also have to act as a jury in an impeachment trial. 

“He doesn’t like to ever get ahead of the conference, and he always wants to be in a place that’s helpful to both ends. ... And look he’s obviously very much attuned to the risk that some of those incumbents face and he doesn’t want to make their job harder. On the other hand, he also knows the facts are developing,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak. 

In one corner of the caucus McConnell has senators like Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham neck and neck with challenger in South Carolina Senate race: poll Harris slams Trump's Supreme Court pick as an attempt to 'destroy the Affordable Care Act' Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election MORE (R-S.C.) who has quickly become one of Trump’s fiercest defenders, including threatening to use his panel to launch a counter investigation. 

But McConnell is also contending with a growing number of senators, including Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump's Teflon problem: Nothing sticks, including the 'wins' Durbin: Democrats can 'slow' Supreme Court confirmation 'perhaps a matter of hours, maybe days at most' Senate GOP set to vote on Trump's Supreme Court pick before election MORE (R-Maine) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyTrump, Biden have one debate goal: Don't lose Trump-Biden debate: High risk vs. low expectations Crenshaw looms large as Democrats look to flip Texas House seat MORE (R-Utah), who have raised some level of concern about Trump’s remarks. 

“There's no question that on its face asking China to investigate Mr. Biden, asking Ukraine, is simply the wrong thing to do," Romney told reporters in Utah. 

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderDemocratic Senate candidate in Tennessee discusses working-class background Pelosi urges early voting to counter GOP's high court gambit: 'There has to be a price to pay' Graham: GOP has votes to confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election MORE (R-Tenn.), a McConnell ally, said that raising a political rival was “inappropriate,” but warned that impeachment was a “mistake.” 

Both Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerBreaking the Chinese space addiction Trump dumbfounds GOP with latest unforced error Billionaire who donated to Trump in 2016 donates to Biden MORE (R-Colo.) and Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstOn The Trail: Making sense of this week's polling tsunami Tillis appears to reinforce question about COVID-19 death toll The power of incumbency: How Trump is using the Oval Office to win reelection MORE (R-Iowa), who are up for reelection, have come under criticism for sidestepping questions during the break about whether or not Trump’s comments were appropriate. 

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Gardner bypassed multiple attempts to get him to weigh in on whether or not it’s okay to ask a foreign government to investigate a political rival. 

“This is what we’re going to get into. The Senate Intelligence Committee is having an investigation, a bipartisan investigation, unfortunately what we’ve seen is a very political process take over,” Gardner said. 

When a reporter pushed back that is was a “yes or no question,” Gardner pivoted, adding “here’s what we see in the House of Representatives you see a very partisan process taking place.” 

The dissonance among Senate Republicans — a large swath of whom, mirroring McConnell, haven’t weighed in during the break — reflects a larger struggle within the party to unify behind a single strategy. 

Mackowiak argued that the White House needs an impeachment “war room,” that would be responsible for sending out messaging guidance to allies and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. 

“They don’t have all the facts,” he said, referring to Senate Republicans. “Clearly the White House messaging has been pretty uneven. ... That can be a little risky to be unequivocal or get out on a limb and have the limb sawed off.”