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

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamFacebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in Jaime Harrison raises million in two weeks for South Carolina Senate bid 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: Following debate, Biden hammers Trump on coronavirus | Study: Universal mask-wearing could save 130,000 lives | Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight On The Money: Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight | Landlords, housing industry sue CDC to overturn eviction ban Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight MORE (D-Calif.) warning that the caucus won’t remove President TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' 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 BidenFacebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' Senate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus 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 RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischWhy the US should rely more on strategy, not sanctions Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Senators blast Turkey's move to convert Hagia Sophia back into a mosque MORE (R-Idaho), Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonCotton mocks NY Times over claim of nonpartisanship, promises to submit op-eds as test Barrett fight puts focus on abortion in 2020 election COVID outbreak threatens GOP's Supreme Court plans MORE (R-Ark.) and Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntPower players play chess match on COVID-19 aid GOP to Trump: Focus on policy Low-flying helicopters to measure radiation levels in DC before inauguration MORE (R-Mo.), raised concerns, while still others were “visibly frustrated,” according to a GOP aide. 

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyFinger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight On The Money: GOP cool to White House's .6T coronavirus price tag | Company layoffs mount as pandemic heads into fall | Initial jobless claims drop to 837,000 GOP cool to White House's .6T coronavirus price tag 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 Scott GardnerThe Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in Democrats seek to block appeal of court ruling ousting Pendley, BLM land plans Senate is leaning to the Democrats, big time, with a wave MORE (R-Colo.), viewed as the most vulnerable Republican up for reelection. 

Several, including Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRatings drop to 55M for final Trump-Biden debate Bipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning Mitt Romney did not vote for Trump in 2020 election MORE (R-Utah) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMcConnell tees up Barrett nomination, setting up rare weekend session Collins says running as Independent 'crossed my mind' Republicans advance Barrett's Supreme Court nomination after Democrats boycott committee vote 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 ClintonBon Jovi to campaign with Biden in Pennsylvania The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in Biden gets late boost with key union endorsement 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 SchumerTrump announces opening of relations between Sudan and Israel Five takeaways on Iran, Russia election interference Pelosi calls Iran 'bad actor' but not equivalent to Russia on election interference 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.