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

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Additional airlines ban guns on flights to DC ahead of inauguration 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 PelosiDemocrats point fingers on whether Capitol rioters had inside help Pelosi suggests criminal charges for any lawmaker who helped with Capitol riot Pelosi mum on when House will send impeachment article to Senate MORE (D-Calif.) warning that the caucus won’t remove President TrumpDonald TrumpCIA chief threatened to resign over push to install Trump loyalist as deputy: report Azar in departure letter says Capitol riot threatens to 'tarnish' administration's accomplishments Justice Dept. argues Trump should get immunity from rape accuser's lawsuit 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 BidenAzar in departure letter says Capitol riot threatens to 'tarnish' administration's accomplishments House Democrats introduce measures to oppose Trump's bomb sale to Saudis On The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits MORE and his son, Hunter Biden.

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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 RischJim Elroy RischOvernight Defense: US sanctions NATO ally Turkey over Russian defense system | Veterans groups, top Democrats call for Wilkie's resignation | Gingrich, other Trump loyalists named to Pentagon board Will Biden choose a values-based or transactional foreign policy? GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results MORE (R-Idaho), Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump's growing isolation as administration comes to an end Cotton: Senate lacks authority to hold impeachment trial once Trump leaves office MORE (R-Ark.) and 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.), raised concerns, while still others were “visibly frustrated,” according to a GOP aide. 

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Overnight Defense: Trump impeached for second time | National Guard at Capitol now armed, swelling to 20K troops for inauguration | Alabama chosen for Space Command home Space Command to be located in Alabama 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. 

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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 GardnerOvernight Defense: Joint Chiefs denounce Capitol attack | Contractors halt donations after siege | 'QAnon Shaman' at Capitol is Navy vet Lobbying world Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (R-Colo.), viewed as the most vulnerable Republican up for reelection. 

Several, including Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt Romney'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 McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time MORE (R-Utah) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret Collins'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time McConnell says he's undecided on whether to vote to convict Trump 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 ClintonMillennials and the great reckoning on race Biden chooses Amanda Gorman as youngest known inaugural poet Can Biden encompass the opposition he embodied? 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 SchumerChuck SchumerBiden and the new Congress must protect Americans from utility shutoffs 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate Democrats looking to speed through Senate impeachment trial 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.