GOP warns Graham letter to Pelosi on impeachment could 'backfire'

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump upends controversial surveillance fight The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump on US coronavirus risks: 'We're very, very ready for this' Surveillance fight emerges as intelligence flashpoint MORE (R-S.C.) is facing pushback from some of his Republican colleagues over his plan to send a letter to House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — California monitoring 8,400 people for coronavirus | Pence taps career official to coordinate response | Dems insist on guardrails for funding Overnight Energy: Murkowski, Manchin unveil major energy bill | Lawmakers grill EPA chief over push to slash agency's budget | GOP lawmaker accuses Trump officials of 'playing politics' over Yucca Mountain Hillicon Valley — Presented by Facebook — Federal court rules tech giants can censor content | Trump upends surveillance fight | Senate passes bill barring federal funds for Huawei equipment MORE (D-Calif.) warning that the caucus won’t remove President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Congress eyes billion to billion to combat coronavirus Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary MORE from office.

Graham raised the forthcoming letter during a closed-door caucus lunch on Wednesday, multiple sources told The Hill.

The letter, according to Graham’s description, would warn Pelosi that Senate Republicans will not vote to remove President Trump from office because of a phone call where he asked the Ukrainian government to “look into” former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary Sanders holds 13-point lead in Fox News poll MORE and his son, Hunter Biden.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) told The Hill that he would sign the letter, if it is as described, but he warned it could be a distraction and, without enough support, could raise questions about GOP unity in the impeachment fight.

“I will sign the letter, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s necessarily a good idea,” Kennedy said. “We don’t need distractions right now.”

Asked if the letter would backfire if it doesn’t get enough signatures, Kennedy acknowledged “that’s a risk.” He added some GOP senators want to hear more on impeachment and could be put in an awkward spot. 

“The fact that some senators may … not [sign the letter] does not indicate necessarily that they don't support the president. They just want to hear more … and I just don’t think that’s fair to them,” Kennedy said.

“I just worry that Americans will look at it, and some less-enlightened members of the press … will look at it and say okay this is what the vote will be among the Republicans," he continued.

Kennedy was one of a handful of GOP senators who raised concerns about Graham’s letter during the party’s closed-door lunch. Some, including Sens. Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischGOP lawmaker makes unannounced trip to northeastern Syria Lawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban Senators condemn UN 'blacklisting' of US companies in Israeli settlements MORE (R-Idaho), Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonAsian caucus urges fellow lawmakers not to 'perpetuate racist stereotypes' amid coronavirus fears Overnight Defense: More closures possible at US bases in Europe as coronavirus spreads | Pompeo says Afghan 'reduction in violence is working' | Man accused of trying to blow up vehicle at Pentagon Top general: More closures at US bases in Europe possible as coronavirus spreads MORE (R-Ark.) and Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntTrump upends controversial surveillance fight Congress eyes killing controversial surveillance program Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony MORE (R-Mo.), raised concerns, while still others were “visibly frustrated,” according to a GOP aide. 

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyCongress eyes billion to billion to combat coronavirus On The Money: Stocks plummet into correction over fears of coronavirus spreading | GOP resistance to Fed pick Shelton eases | Sanders offers bill to limit tax breaks for retiring executives Lawmakers race to pass emergency coronavirus funding MORE (R-Ala.) confirmed that Graham talked during the lunch about the letter. Shelby said he “asked him a couple questions.” He declined to say what those questions were. 

A GOP senator panned the idea as “one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever heard from Lindsey.” 

“He’s trying to help but it’s going to backfire,” the senator added. “If there aren’t enough signatures the president is going to look really weak.” 

Another GOP senator said they were concerned the letter would shift the focus onto perceived splits within the Republican caucus, based on who did or did not sign the letter. 

“There’s just no reason to begin to separate a conference that I think is very united on moving forward and doing our job in the right way,” the senator added. 

“I think you can read too much into the letter. You know some member that thinks, ‘well I’m a juror here and I don’t want to say anything early.’ ...I don’t see what purpose it serves."

Graham pitched the letter as part of a presentation he gave during the caucus lunch about what to expect from the impeachment process. Republicans view holding an impeachment trial as inevitable and Graham was one of the trial managers during the Clinton impeachment. 

“Get ready for a rollercoaster,” Graham said asked about how he described the likely impeachment trial during the lunch. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Graham declined to say what type of reception his letter has gotten as he’s been trying to garner signatures from his colleagues, and noted that he was “just speaking for myself.” 

He confirmed to The Hill that some raised concerns about the letter during the lunch.

“Some people didn’t like the approach and I’m taking their concerns under advisement. And I’ll do what I’ll need to do,” he said. 

Asked if it could put some of his colleagues up for reelection in battleground Senate races in an odd spot, he added: “The main thing for me is to try to be smart and stop a calamity from happening.” 

Signing a letter guaranteeing that Senate Republicans won’t convict Trump could put his GOP colleagues in a tough position. 

“If Cory signs it he’s dead, if Cory doesn’t sign, he's dead,” the first GOP senator said, referring to Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump on US coronavirus risks: 'We're very, very ready for this' GOP, Democrats hash out 2020 strategy at dueling retreats The Hill's Morning Report - Can Sanders be stopped? MORE (R-Colo.), viewed as the most vulnerable Republican up for reelection. 

Several, including Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyPresident Trump is weak against Bernie Sanders in foreign affairs Conservative activist Charlie Kirk urges CPAC crowd to boo Romney The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pence taps health official to aid coronavirus response MORE (R-Utah) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump on US coronavirus risks: 'We're very, very ready for this' GOP, Democrats hash out 2020 strategy at dueling retreats Chamber looks to support Democratic allies in 2020 MORE (R-Maine), have declined to weigh in on the impeachment proceedings and admonished their colleagues who have already made a decision. 

Collins, one of two GOP senators up for reelection in a state won by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton to start new podcast Centrist Democrats insist Sanders would need delegate majority to win President Trump is weak against Bernie Sanders in foreign affairs MORE, told reporters in Maine that it was “entirely inappropriate” for senators to be taking a position. 

Romney declined to comment on Wednesday on Graham’s letter, but he said last week that he was going to keep “an open mind” on impeachment. 

“It's a purposeful effort on my part to stay unbiased, and to see the evidence as it's brought forward,” he said. 

Underscoring the potential risk for Republicans, Democrats are already attacking them on Graham's letter.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis Schumer Sanders blasts Trump for picking 'completely unqualified' Pence for coronavirus response Trump passes Pence a dangerous buck Democratic mega-donor reaching out to Pelosi, Schumer in bid to stop Sanders: report MORE (D-N.Y.) accused Graham of using "'Alice in Wonderland' justice" and urged him to rethink sending the letter.

"Sen. Graham said that he was trying to organize a letter of Senate Republicans promising they would not vote to convict the president — before the House even completes its inquiry, before any Articles of Impeachment are even drafted, let alone voted on, before a scrap of evidence was considered in a Senate trial, if that comes to it," Schumer said from the Senate floor.

"Senator Graham seems to be advocating 'Alice in Wonderland’ justice. First the verdict, then the trial. I hope he’ll rethink that," he added.