Trump's GOP impeachment firewall holds strong

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTelevised impeachment begins: Are Democrats ready for their close-up? Trump goes on retweeting offensive ahead of public impeachment hearing North Korea issues warning over US-South Korea drills MORE has had a rough couple of weeks, but his Republican wall of defense is holding in the Senate.

Senate Republicans by and large are standing by Trump despite polls showing growing public support for impeachment, even among GOP voters.

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Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyClub for Growth extends advertising against House Dems over impeachment Pennsylvania's other election-night story This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry MORE (R-Utah), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseTrump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition Trump has officially appointed one in four circuit court judges Senators press NSA official over shuttered phone surveillance program MORE (R-Neb.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP senators warn against Trump firing intelligence community official This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Senate panel clears controversial Trump court pick MORE (R-Maine) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanRepublicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump GOP lawmakers fear Trump becoming too consumed by impeachment fight Synagogues ramp up security in year since Tree of Life shooting MORE (R-Ohio) have criticized Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he pressed for an investigation into former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenUniversity of Florida student government president faces impeachment over Trump Jr. appearance 'Ok, boomer' is much more than a meme Keep your eye on essential facts in the unfolding impeachment circus MORE, a leading Democratic candidate for president. But none has endorsed the House impeachment inquiry.

The Ukraine controversy, which has been the impetus of the House’s impeachment inquiry, comes amid other negative headlines for the White House. Members of both parties have ripped Trump’s recent decision to pull U.S. forces out of Syria, and last week two associates of Trump’s attorney Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiGiuliani pens op-ed slamming 'unprecedented' impeachment inquiry Giuliani associate Lev Parnas discussed Ukraine with Trump at private dinner: report Democrats face make-or-break moment on impeachment MORE were arrested for alleged campaign finance violations in a probe that is not yet complete.

Regardless, Republican aides and strategists say it would be a political mistake for a GOP lawmaker to take on Trump publicly.

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, you just keep your mouth shut and see how the cards fall,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

O’Connell said there is broad recognition among Republican lawmakers that their political fates are tied to Trump in 2020. Even in states that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Krystal Ball credits Gabbard's upswing in 2020 race to 'feckless' Democratic establishment Outsider candidates outpoll insider candidates MORE won in 2016, Trump will be crucial to mobilizing the GOP base, and a public spat with the president over Twitter could prove devastating. Bucking Trump could also trigger primary challengers to Republican senators who are up for reelection next year.

“Their entire political livelihood is dependent on Donald Trump winning in 2020. So unless there’s some enormous smoking gun that no one foresaw — and certainly that’s not the case right now — they’re going to stick with Trump,” O’Connell said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell protege emerges as Kentucky's next rising star Hillicon Valley: Schumer questions Army over use of TikTok | Federal court rules against random searches of travelers' phones | Groups push for election security funds in stopgap bill | Facebook's new payment feature | Disney+ launch hit by glitches McConnell, GOP leaders say they won't be watching House impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ky.) made the argument earlier this year that the path to keeping GOP control of the Senate in 2020 is to portray their majority as a crucial “firewall” against bad ideas from the House. 

McConnell says impeachment, just like other plans favored by the Democrats’ left wing, such as “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal, will be quashed in the Senate. The Kentucky Republican, who is up for reelection next year, slammed House Democrats last week for striking “at the core of our democracy” by trying to overturn the results of the 2016 election without “fairness and due process.”

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Romney, who is Trump’s most outspoken Republican critic in the Senate, declined to comment late last week when asked if the House impeachment inquiry is appropriate or whether he would vote in favor of articles of impeachment should they come to the Senate. He told The Salt Lake Tribune that he hasn’t spoken to any other Republican senator about the impeachment process, making no concerted effort to change the minds of his colleagues.

Articles of impeachment would need a two-thirds majority, or 67 votes, in the Senate to convict the president. At this point it appears unlikely any would even gain a majority, as Republicans control 53 seats to the Democrats’ 47.

Collins, who decried Trump’s call for China to investigate Biden as “completely inappropriate,” last week criticized Senate Democratic colleagues for rushing to embrace impeachment before the House investigation is complete.

She also criticized Republicans for racing to defend Trump before knowing all the facts.

“I am amazed that some of my colleagues have already made up their minds one way or the other before all the evidence is in and before the facts are known,” she told the Bangor Daily News. “I think that’s entirely inappropriate whether they’re for impeachment or against impeachment. Under the Constitution, the role of the senator is to act as a juror and that is what I did in the case of the impeachment trial of Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonKeep your eye on essential facts in the unfolding impeachment circus Steyer scores endorsement from key New Hampshire activist House drip-bombing of witness testimony softens landing zone for public support MORE.”

Collins, a top Democratic target, is up for reelection next year in a state carried by Clinton in 2016, but she has been careful in criticizing the president.

Three other Republican senators up for reelection in 2020 — Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerTariffs threaten 1.5M jobs: Study This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Progressive veterans group launches campaign labeling Trump as a 'national security threat' MORE (Colo.), Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Progressive veterans group launches campaign labeling Trump as a 'national security threat' Advocates step up efforts for horse racing reform bill after more deaths MORE (Ariz.) and Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstMcConnell, GOP leaders say they won't be watching House impeachment hearing This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry GOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week MORE (Iowa) — also declined to criticize Trump’s conduct while at home during the October recess.

A senior aide to a Republican senator who has kept a neutral stance on the impeachment question said House Democrats haven’t yet been able to break through to Republican colleagues and voters.

“Most people are going to hold their powder dry until we see what the House actually presents, but it certainly seems from a Republican perspective that every salacious and breathless charge seems to fall apart,” the aide said.

“There so far doesn’t seem to be a criminal malfeasance standard that’s being met. It seems to be more bone-headed stupidity that you shouldn’t do, but it doesn’t mean you should be removed from office,” the staffer added.

Senate Republicans are mindful of the fates of former Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (Ariz.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing GOP senators frustrated with Romney jabs at Trump MORE (Tenn.), two former GOP colleagues who squared up against the president and wound up retiring from public service under the threat of a tough primary challenge. 

“In private moments many of the Republican senators are embarrassed and concerned by the president’s behavior, but they also know what happened to Sen. Flake and Sen. Corker. They took Trump on, and the president pushed their favorability rating down into the teens. He was relentless in attacking both of them for that. That has not been lost on the Republicans in the Senate and so many of them hold their fire, keep their own quiet counsel and say nothing out loud,” said former Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.).

“I served with many of them for a lot of years, and I know them well and I know they’re people who love their country and have a good sense of right and wrong,” he added. “They’re always using language like, ‘I wouldn’t have said that,’ or ‘I wouldn’t have said it that way.’ ”

“They’re just very concerned about a president who has 60 to 70 million people receiving his tweets every day,” Dorgan said.

The House impeachment inquiry has made progress in corroborating an unnamed whistleblower’s complaint that Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate Biden, though it hasn’t broken enough new ground to move Senate Republicans.

“Republican senators have not moved very much. A few of them have criticized Trump, but no one has suggested they’re ready to impeach the president,” said Darrell West, the director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

“Republican voters are still not sympathetic to the impeachment effort, so I think Republican senators will not shift unless there’s a major change in public opinion,” he added. “Most of the testimony to date has just confirmed what was in the whistleblower complaint, so it’s hard for that to move things. There’s going to need to be new information that alters people’s views.”

Some polls show the Democratic impeachment effort is gaining ground, but Republican pollsters and Senate GOP aides have disputed the accuracy of these surveys, arguing they undercount Republican base voters.

A Fox News poll last week showed that 51 percent of voters want Trump impeached and removed from office, a new high.

An NBC News–Wall Street Journal poll conducted earlier this month, however, showed that 43 percent of American adults say Trump should be impeached and removed from office while 49 percent opposed the idea. A plurality of voters in that survey rated themselves as “strong Democrat.”

Trump pollster Jim McLaughlin said Republican strategists are generally discounting the polls that show high public support for impeaching Trump.

“Even in places like New Jersey, a majority of people in battleground districts will tell you they don’t want him impeached,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin pointed out his polls show that voters think Congress should be focusing on “the issues that matter, like health care, the economy, national security, immigration.”

“It was like two-thirds saying that’s what they should be focused on, not impeachment,” he said. “The Republicans are staying strong. Like,  over 90 percent of Republicans don’t want impeachment.”

McLaughlin said polls showing growing Republican support for impeachment are poorly conducted.

“A lot of them are doing random-digit dialing,” he said.

--This report was updated at 8:17 a.m.