Pressure grows on House GOP leaders to hold line ahead of impeachment trial

Pressure grows on House GOP leaders to hold line ahead of impeachment trial
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans say GOP unity during the upcoming House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearings will be critical to setting the tone ahead of a likely Senate trial.

Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunBipartisan push for vocational training focuses on funding, curricula The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in MORE (R-Ind.) said if House Republicans unanimously vote against impeachment, that would make it “less likely any senator would jump ship.”

One senior GOP senator said that if House Republicans stay unified against articles of impeachment, the Senate Republican Conference will do the same.

ADVERTISEMENT

“As long as no House Republicans vote for the articles of impeachment, I don’t expect any [GOP] senators to,” the senior senator said.

All of that puts more pressure on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyFifth House Republican comes out in support of bipartisan infrastructure bill Watch live: McCarthy holds briefing with reporters The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks MORE (R-Calif.) and other House GOP leaders to keep their troops in line and ensure there are no detractors over the next few weeks. A floor vote on articles of impeachment is expected before the end of the month.

Not a single Republican voted for the House resolution in October that formalized the rules for the impeachment inquiry against President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE, and GOP lawmakers and strategists argue that there were no earth-shattering revelations in the subsequent hearings.

“Nothing that has come forward has reached the threshold level to where it’s really changed anything,” he said, adding that he hasn’t seen any increased support for impeachment among constituents.

McCarthy told The Hill in an interview last month that his leadership team has kept the House GOP conference together by keeping rank-and-file members as informed as possible.

“Each member makes their own mind up, but you’ve got to make sure that they are able to see all sides,” he said.

ADVERTISEMENT

House Republicans have also pointed to member briefings that Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseFifth House Republican comes out in support of bipartisan infrastructure bill Democratic leaders racing toward Monday infrastructure vote House GOP to whip against bipartisan infrastructure bill MORE (R-La.) has held to keep everyone on the same page.

After spending a week in their home states for the Thanksgiving recess, GOP senators say political support for impeaching Trump has only weakened since the public hearings in the House.

“From the polling I’ve seen, Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schiff are sort of losing ground,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook Democrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan MORE (R-Texas), referring to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs Democrats steamroll toward showdown on House floor Panic begins to creep into Democratic talks on Biden agenda MORE (D-Calif.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffJan. 6 panel subpoenas four ex-Trump aides Bannon, Meadows Schiff: Criminal contempt charges possible for noncooperation in Jan. 6 probe The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks MORE (D-Calif.).

A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll found that 65 percent of U.S. adults said the House hearings wouldn’t change their minds on impeachment.

The same poll found an even split on the question of impeachment — 45 percent in support, 44 percent against.

An Emerson poll last month showed independents swinging against impeachment, with 49 percent opposed and 34 percent in favor, a significant reversal compared to October when the same survey found 48 percent of independents in support.

While the numbers could swing back the other way, Senate Republicans are becoming more confident as partisan battle lines become even more entrenched.

“The longer this goes on, I think the more and more people are going to get tired of it,” Cornyn said.

Grover Norquist, the anti-tax leader who hosts a weekly gathering of conservative activists, said Monday that he doesn’t see any Republicans in the House or Senate breaking ranks to vote for articles of impeachment.

“I think it’s extremely unlikely that any [Republican] in the House or Senate would look at this thing and say anything other than it’s thoroughly political,” he said.

“I think it’s true that if the [Republicans] all hold in the House then the Senate all holds,” he added, while noting that Republican-turned-Independent Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashDemocrats defend Afghan withdrawal amid Taliban advance Vietnam shadow hangs over Biden decision on Afghanistan Kamala Harris and our shameless politics MORE (Mich.) could vote for impeachment.

Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist, said it’s “helpful” to keep Senate Republicans unified “if the House stays unified” because “there’s protection in numbers.”

He said “there is a lot of pressure” not to be the first Republican to break ranks and vote with the Democrats on impeachment.

“It’s not like if you vote with the Democrats somehow you’re going to be rewarded for it,” he added. “Voting with the Democrats will probably hurt you more than voting with the Republicans, even if you’re in a swing district.”

“The closer we get to next year’s elections, what we’re seeing in the polling is that voters basically don’t want their vote taken away from them,” O’Connell said, alluding to the argument that voting to remove Trump from office before Election Day would effectively circumvent the electoral process.

Chip Saltsman, another GOP strategist, said voting for articles of impeachment would be a career-defining move for a Republican lawmaker that would likely spur primary challenges.

“I think Republican support has gotten better,” Saltsman said of polling showing that the Republican base is rallying behind Trump.

“Do they really want the prospects of a contentious, expensive Republican primary staring them in the face before they have to worry about a general election?” Saltsman said of the political danger facing any Republicans who vote to impeach Trump.

ADVERTISEMENT

“It’s a career-defining vote if you vote for [impeachment],” he added.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonLiberal group launches campaign urging Republicans to support Biden's agenda Domestic extremists return to the Capitol GOP senator: Buying Treasury bonds 'foolish' amid standoff over debt ceiling, taxes MORE (R-Wis.) said he would be “shocked” if any House Republicans vote for impeachment, adding that he thinks it’s clear the House and Senate votes will fall along party lines.

“I think we all know the result, which is [why] it’s kind of unfortunate the House is even going through this process,” he said.

Many Senate Republicans say U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon SondlandGordon SondlandThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Biden to mark Tuesday anniversary of George Floyd's death Trump impeachment witness suing Pompeo, State over legal fees America's practice of 'pay-to-play' ambassadors is no joke MORE’s testimony before the House last month, which some observers described as containing “bombshell” revelations, has failed to alter the political terrain in the Senate.

They say Trump’s decision to release military aide to Ukraine and the fact that Kyiv never went ahead with an investigation of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe House passes sweeping defense policy bill MORE cuts the legs out from the House Democrats’ case.

When asked if Sondland’s testimony had strengthened the case against Trump, Johnson responded, “I don’t think so, not basically.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“Maybe added a little bit of information. It was all based on his assumptions, presumptions,” Johnson said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump pushes back on book claims, says he spent 'virtually no time' discussing election with Lee, Graham The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden meets with lawmakers amid domestic agenda panic The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles MORE (R-S.C.), another Trump ally, dismissed Sondland as an unreliable witness, pointing out that Sondland left out key details in his original testimony and later updated it substantially after claiming that other witnesses refreshed his memory.

“I’m very suspicious of anybody [who] all of a sudden remembers something that was obvious to be remembered,” Graham said.

“He says it’s now widely known, open secret, that everybody was in on it that there was going to be no meeting unless there was an investigation. Why didn’t he say that the first time?” Graham added, referring to Sondland’s revised testimony saying senior officials throughout the Trump administration knew that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was not going to get a coveted meeting with Trump unless he agreed to investigate Biden.

“I’ve sort of written that off,” Graham said.

Meanwhile, potential Senate swing votes such as Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGraham tries to help Trump and McConnell bury the hatchet GOP senator will 'probably' vote for debt limit increase Five questions and answers about the debt ceiling fight MORE (R-Utah), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCollins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike GOP senator will 'probably' vote for debt limit increase MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff Graham tries to help Trump and McConnell bury the hatchet Trump, allies launch onslaught as midterms kick into gear MORE (R-Alaska) aren’t giving any hints about which way they are leaning. Instead they are letting the political process play out.

“I’m just not commenting on evidence that comes out day by day. I’ll look at all of the evidence in depth when it’s presented to the Senate,” Romney said.

Juliegrace Brufke contributed.