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

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse Johnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens 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 PelosiLouisiana governor wins re-election Dynamic scoring: Forward-thinking budgeting practices to grow our economy Pelosi: Trump tweets on Yovanovitch show his 'insecurity as an imposter' MORE (D-Calif.) warning that the caucus won’t remove President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election 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 BidenBudget official says he didn't know why military aid was delayed: report Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide READ: Foreign service officer Jennifer Williams' closed-door testimony from the House impeachment inquiry 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 RischOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Senate Foreign Relations chair: 'Best' not to pass Turkey sanctions bill 'at this moment' Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators at White House MORE (R-Idaho), Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonTom Cotton's only Democratic rival quits race in Arkansas Schumer concerned by Army's use of TikTok, other Chinese social media platforms Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising MORE (R-Ark.) and Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Overnight Health Care: Cigarette smoking rates at new low | Spread of vaping illness slowing | Dems in Congress push to block Trump abortion rule GOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial MORE (R-Mo.), raised concerns, while still others were “visibly frustrated,” according to a GOP aide. 

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyOn The Money: Trump appeals to Supreme Court to keep tax returns from NY prosecutors | Pelosi says deal on new NAFTA 'imminent' | Mnuchin downplays shutdown threat | Trump hits Fed after Walmart boasts strong earnings Overnight Health Care: Cigarette smoking rates at new low | Spread of vaping illness slowing | Dems in Congress push to block Trump abortion rule Lawmakers aim for agreement on top-line spending by next week 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 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 (R-Colo.), viewed as the most vulnerable Republican up for reelection. 

Several, including Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyDeval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne Ocasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field Jon Huntsman expected to run for governor in Utah MORE (R-Utah) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Senate confirms controversial circuit court nominee Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families 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 ClintonGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy 'Too Far Left' hashtag trends on Twitter Resistance or unhinged behavior? Partisan hatred reaches Trump's family 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 SchumerOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary Schumer blocks drug pricing measure during Senate fight, seeking larger action 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.