GOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week

As Washington gears up this week for the public phase of the impeachment inquiry, one group is largely tuning it out: Senate Republicans.

Several GOP senators say they either won’t watch the highly anticipated public hearings or haven’t been reading the steady release of transcripts from the House’s closed-door depositions with current and former administration officials.

{mosads}The reasons vary — some say they don’t have enough time, while others say they distrust the House process. But the decision to disengage underscores the divide between the two sides of the Capitol: on one, impeachment appears all but inevitable; on the other, the potential jury is hanging back, for now.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who was in office for former President Clinton’s impeach trial, said he wouldn’t be watching the hearings and that doing so “could prejudice my view” once the case reaches the Senate.

“I wouldn’t want to see that,” he said, specifying that during the Clinton trial he “waited to hear the evidence that came before the Senate.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) added that he also wouldn’t be watching, calling the House process a “sham.”

“It’s being driven by political people,” he said. “I think this is a bunch of crap in the House.”

GOP Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Joni Ernst (Iowa) both said they had their own work to do. The Senate will be in session on Wednesday when the first public hearings take place.

“They’re selectively leaking out different documents and it’s hard to follow what they’re doing,” Ernst added about House Democrats.

{mossecondads}Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), who has emerged as a leading GOP critic of Trump’s, said he hadn’t finalized his calendar, but that he expected that at some point he would do his homework on the House’s findings.

“I certainly anticipate that when the time comes I will give this a very thorough dedication and evaluation,” Romney said, adding that he hadn’t read any of the deposition transcripts.

The House is set to hold two days of public hearings this week, marking a shift in the impeachment inquiry after weeks of closed-door depositions. On Wednesday, George Kent, a top State Department official, and William Taylor, a top Ukraine diplomat, are slated to testify before Congress.

On Friday, Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine who was recalled from her post due to perceived insufficient loyalty to Trump, will testify.

The hearings come as Republicans have hounded Democrats for weeks about conducting the impeachment inquiry behind closed doors, and keeping the public, as well as most House members, from being able to observe the process or hear witness testimony.

But the public hearings are unlikely to satisfy Republicans. Trump told reporters on Friday that the House shouldn’t be holding public hearings, dismissing the inquiry as a “hoax.”

“It was just explained to me that for next weeks Fake Hearing (trial) in the House, as they interview Never Trumpers and others, I get NO LAWYER & NO DUE PROCESS. It is a Pelosi, Schiff, Scam against the Republican Party and me. This Witch Hunt should not be allowed to proceed!” Trump tweeted Thursday.

The public hearings come after a steady leak of news out of the closed-door depositions and the subsequent release of full transcripts have provided several dramatic twists and raised new questions about the administration’s decision to temporarily delay aid to Ukraine.

But some GOP senators say they aren’t reading those transcripts, which are several hundred pages long, making it difficult to gauge what effect they’ve had within the caucus.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of leadership, said he had read news reports but that he was not “an expert in that testimony.”

“I think the thing that will impact how my colleagues look at this — ultimately, most — is whether it continues to be a largely partisan process in the House or not,” he said when asked if he thought the transcripts would sway Senate Republicans.

“If they come up with information that’s very persuasive to a whole lot of Republican House members, that’s a totally different situation when it comes over here than if it comes over with the same kind of vote that they had already to open the impeachment inquiry,” he added.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said he isn’t reading the deposition transcripts.

“The problem is this whole process is tainted because it’s become hopelessly partisan,” he said. “I plan to listen to the evidence that’s presented at the trial.”

GOP Sens. Kevin Cramer (N.D.) and John Kennedy (La.) both said they haven’t read the transcripts, but left the door open to doing so. Kennedy said he planned to read them before a Senate trial, but appeared skeptical that lawmakers could learn too much from the documents.

“I will tell you, having been an appellate law clerk and having practiced law for a while … it’s very very hard to judge witness credibility based on a transcript,” he said.

Graham has also said he will not read the deposition transcripts, arguing that he had already read the rough transcript of the call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“What about them? What have they told us? I can read the phone call for myself. I don’t care if a million people have a view of the phone call, that doesn’t matter to me,” he said.

When a reporter noted that the witness testimony corroborated parts of the whistleblower complaint at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, he fired back: “That’s what the Democrats say.”

Even as some Republicans say they aren’t closely following the House inquiry, senators view it as increasingly likely that they will have to hold a trial. But the eventual outcome — that Trump will not be convicted — appears all but guaranteed since 67 votes would be needed to convict the president. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the chamber.

McConnell told reporters during a weekly press conference that his prediction was that a Trump impeachment trial would have a similar outcome as the two previous presidential impeachment efforts.

“I will say, I’m pretty sure it is likely to end. If it were today, I don’t think there is any question. It would not lead to a removal,” McConnell said.

But that hasn’t stopped impeachment talk from consuming the Senate, where lawmakers are repeatedly hammered with questions.

Cornyn noted that Republicans have been talking about other issues, including drug prices and Trump’s trade deal with Canada and Mexico. But when pressed if he thought those were breaking through, he responded, “not really because there’s so much going on.” 

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) stopped in the Senate basement last week to chat with a group of energy and environment reporters. As soon as she walked away, another group of reporters asked if she had seen anything that qualified as an impeachable offense in the House transcripts.

“I really can’t believe after my great effort to try to move the conversation to substance, that you still feel compelled to bring up the question,” she replied as she headed toward a basement elevator. “So I will, I will defer to another point in time.”

Tags hearings Impeachment John Cornyn John Kennedy Joni Ernst Kevin Cramer Lindsey Graham Lisa Murkowski Marco Rubio Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Richard Shelby Roy Blunt Testimony Trial Ukraine Whistleblower
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