GOP lawmakers fear Trump becoming too consumed by impeachment fight

Senate Republicans want President Trump to focus more on his agenda and not let himself become personally consumed by the House impeachment inquiry, which is likely to hit a dead end in the Senate.

Senate Republicans have urged the president on multiple occasions to keep his eye on top policy priorities and let his allies on Capitol Hill handle more of the day-to-day skirmishing over impeachment, according to GOP sources familiar with communications with the president.

One instance came late last month during a meeting between Trump and Republican senators at the White House, when Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) urged the president to follow the model of how President Clinton handled impeachment in 1998 and 1999.

{mosads}The GOP senator, who is an adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), urged Trump at the Oct. 24 meeting to keep his focus on the agenda and let Republican lawmakers do more of the heavy lifting in fighting back against the Democratic impeachment push.

The senator’s comments reflected the belief among many Senate Republicans that the public cares more about issues such as the strength of the economy, health care and national security than impeachment.

“The dual-track strategy would be a better strategy. He’s been told this a number of times. Let us worry about impeachment, that’s our job. You worry about your job,” said a person familiar with communications between Senate Republicans and the president.

In 1998, Clinton made it a priority to compartmentalize his impeachment defense and his policy agenda, which sent a clear message to voters that he was continuing to pursue the nation’s business despite the partisan fighting in Congress.

Trump, by contrast, has declared on multiple occasions that the House Democrats’ pursuit of impeachment makes it all but impossible to pass bipartisan legislation.

“Then they all wonder why they don’t get gun legislation done, then they wonder why they don’t get drug prices lowered,” Trump said in September. “Because all they do is talk nonsense. No more infrastructure bills, no more anything.”

The president’s frequent expressions of anger and frustration, to the press and over Twitter, has caused some GOP lawmakers to worry that impeachment is consuming too much of the president’s focus.

Trump’s latest idea of reading the transcript of his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as a fireside chat on live television — something the president thinks would quash public support for the impeachment inquiry — strikes some Republicans as a bad idea. They think the president would be better off devoting his national television addresses to his policy goals, such as a new round of tax cuts before the 2020 elections.

Trump discussed impeachment once again with a small group of GOP senators he invited to the White House for lunch this past Thursday, where he reiterated many of the same arguments against the House Democratic inquiry that he has made in public.

He extolled on several occasions the reconstructed transcript of his call with Zelensky, which Trump believes makes it clear that he didn’t do anything wrong.

“He said a number of times he was really glad there was a transcript and that he was really glad he released it,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who attended the meeting.

“In terms of the transcript, what the president said over and over is he was delighted there was a transcript, glad that there was one and he was glad that he released it,” he added.

Democrats, by contrast, view the partial transcript as evidence that Trump tried to inappropriately pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential candidate.

{mossecondads}The senators at Thursday’s meeting mostly listened to Trump and when they spoke, they were eager to put policy issues on his radar that have gotten lost in recent weeks amidst the uproar over impeachment.

“I talked about prescription drugs, prescription drug pricing, and said I think we got to take action,” Hawley said. “Sen. [John] Barrasso brought up infrastructure.”

Some Republican senators are frustrated that major issues, in particular the National Defense Authorization Act and the annual spending bills, have become stalled while the capital is consumed by the impeachment fight.

The defense authorization bill and the spending bills are being held up in large measure because of the lack of a resolution on how to fund the U.S.-Mexico border wall, one of Trump’s top priorities. Democrats don’t want to move defense legislation without a guarantee the president won’t redirect military funds to build the border wall.

One Republican senator expressed frustration to The Hill that Trump is not giving negotiators a clear sense of how he wants to handle the stalled defense bill.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) says he is prepared to move a skinny defense authorization bill — which would be stripped down to the bare essentials — just to avoid the embarrassing prospect of not passing one for the first time in 59 years.

Senate Republicans think Trump would boost his approval numbers, which have dipped in recent weeks, by focusing more on policy and spending less time lashing out at the Democrats impeachment inquiry.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said focusing on policy is a smart idea.

“He just needs to keep working. We need to keep working and that’s what it’s all about,” she said.

That strategy helped Clinton win the public relations battle with Republicans before the 1998 midterm elections, when the president’s party uncharacteristically picked up seats in the House.

“Clinton came out of impeachment more popular than he did going in and he did that in part because he made a concerted effort to show the country he was still working on their behalf on various issues,” said a Senate GOP aide.

A White House spokesman said Democrats have become consumed by impeachment and lost focus on governing, not Trump.

“The President has never lost focus on his promises to the American people unlike the Speaker and her caucus,” Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, wrote in a response emailed to The Hill.

“While the Do Nothing Democrats continue with their kangaroo court, President Trump and his Administration keep working on behalf of the American people, delivering on lower drug prices, border security, USMCA, greater choice in healthcare, infrastructure, and more,” he added. “This President is going to continue to build on his record-setting success, and keep fighting for the forgotten men and women of this country.”

An Emerson Polling survey of voters in Iowa, a key battleground state, last month showed that even Democratic voters don’t rate impeachment as highly as other issues. They rated the economy and health care as the top two issues. Impeachment ranked seventh on the list of their priorities.

At the same time, GOP lawmakers realize that Trump is extremely frustrated with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats.

“I think he’s just offended. The Democrats have been after him since day one,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa).

They also realize that Trump is going to be Trump and that past efforts to tamp down on his Twitter habit haven’t gone anywhere.

“He’s not Bill Clinton. He’s unique,” observed Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).

Tags Bill Clinton Donald Trump Impeachment James Inhofe Joe Biden Joni Ernst Josh Hawley Lisa Murkowski Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Pat Roberts Rob Portman
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