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

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamNavarro: 'Don't fall for' message from TikTok lobbyists, 'puppet CEO' Graham defends Trump on TikTok, backs Microsoft purchase The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - At loggerheads, Congress, White House to let jobless payout lapse 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 PelosiGOP lawmaker: Democratic Party 'used to be more moderate' White House not optimistic on near-term stimulus deal Sunday shows - Stimulus debate dominates MORE (D-Calif.) warning that the caucus won’t remove President TrumpDonald John TrumpOklahoma City Thunder players kneel during anthem despite threat from GOP state lawmaker Microsoft moving forward with talks to buy TikTok after conversation with Trump Controversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled 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 Biden2020 Democratic Party platform endorses Trump's NASA moon program Don't let Trump distract us from the real threat of his presidency Abrams: Trump 'doing his best to undermine our confidence' in voting system 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 RischSenators blast Turkey's move to convert Hagia Sophia back into a mosque Progressive group backs Democratic challenger to Sen. Risch Republicans start bracing for shutdown fight in run-up to election MORE (R-Idaho), Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonOn The Trail: The first signs of a post-Trump GOP The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Brawls on Capitol Hill on Barr and COVID-19 Hillicon Valley: Tech CEOs brace for House grilling | Senate GOP faces backlash over election funds | Twitter limits Trump Jr.'s account MORE (R-Ark.) and Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntFrustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal Pelosi to require masks on House floor GOP, Democratic relief packages B apart on vaccine funding MORE (R-Mo.), raised concerns, while still others were “visibly frustrated,” according to a GOP aide. 

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbySenate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lag Overnight Defense: Senate GOP coronavirus bill includes .4B for Pentagon | US, Australia focus on China in key meeting McConnell wants FBI money out of coronavirus bill 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 GardnerOn The Trail: The first signs of a post-Trump GOP GOP fears Trump attacks on mail-in vote will sabotage turnout Chamber of Commerce endorses Ernst for reelection MORE (R-Colo.), viewed as the most vulnerable Republican up for reelection. 

Several, including Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyStimulus checks debate now focuses on size, eligibility CNN chyron says 'nah' to Trump claim about Russia Unemployment benefits to expire as coronavirus talks deadlock MORE (R-Utah) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOn The Trail: The first signs of a post-Trump GOP Frustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal Shaheen, Chabot call for action on new round of PPP loans 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 ClintonState polling problematic — again 4 reasons why Trump can't be written off — yet 'Unmasking' Steele dossier source: Was confidentiality ever part of the deal? 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 SchumerMeadows: 'I'm not optimistic there will be a solution in the very near term' on coronavirus package Biden calls on Trump, Congress to enact an emergency housing program Senators press Postal Service over complaints of slow delivery 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.