GOP's Obama-era probes fuel Senate angst

The Republican investigations into the Obama administration are fueling public animosity in the Senate.

Those tensions, which have been simmering for months, boiled over this past week, resulting in shouting matches and multiple warnings of long-standing damage to the chamber as an institution.

The scene played out across days, on and off the floor and in multiple committee rooms, as both Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonRomney, Collins, Murkowski won't attend GOP convention Grassley won't attend GOP convention amid coronavirus uptick Trump second-term plans remain a mystery to GOP MORE (R-Wis.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham challenger Harrison raises record-shattering .9 million for SC Senate bid Trump renews culture war, putting GOP on edge Bubba Wallace responds to Trump: 'Even when it's HATE from the POTUS.. Love wins' MORE (R-S.C.) took up subpoenas related to their investigations and former Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinSupreme Court to hear dispute over Democrats' access to Mueller materials Republicans release newly declassified intelligence document on FBI source Steele GOP's Obama-era probes fuel Senate angst MORE testified for the first time since resigning last year.

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Graham, a top Trump ally of President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Tucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Trump on Confederate flag: 'It's freedom of speech' MORE, tipped his hand to the months of building frustration, much of which has played out in shots fired through the press, saying Democrats had made it “abundantly clear” that they disagree with him and “think I am in Trump’s pocket.”

“It’s not lost on me,” Graham said. “But to expect me to punt? You can forget it.”

Democrats view the probes as an effort by Republicans to use their Senate gavels to go after Trump’s political enemies — including former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Joe Biden wins New Jersey primary Biden wins Delaware primary MORE, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee — ahead of November.

“This is going to be a Trump reelect show from start to finish,” Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinHillicon Valley: Facebook takes down 'boogaloo' network after pressure | Election security measure pulled from Senate bill | FCC officially designating Huawei, ZTE as threats Overnight Defense: Democrats blast Trump handling of Russian bounty intel | Pentagon leaders set for House hearing July 9 | Trump moves forward with plan for Germany drawdown Democrats, voting rights groups pressure Senate to approve mail-in voting resources MORE (D-Ill.) told The Hill.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse Overnight Defense: Navy won't reinstate fired captain | Dems probe use of federal officers in DC | Air Force appoints woman as top noncommissioned officer Dems request watchdog probe use of federal law enforcement in DC during Floyd protests MORE (D-Vt.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former chairman, called Graham’s subpoena threat “the Senate at its worst.”

The bickering comes as Republicans are ramping up their investigations into decisions stemming from the Obama administration, including the FBI’s probe into Russia's election interference and the Trump campaign and former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

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Graham on Thursday delayed a vote on a wide-ranging subpoena, which would include more than 50 people, after a fierce clash with Democrats over the request. They will instead vote on the subpoena on Thursday, when Graham is expected to ultimately have the votes.

Durbin, during the hearing, told Graham that he viewed the investigation as about a “president who just can't get over it — maybe he will never will — and by a chairman who wants him to have another day to make his point about how he was mistreated.”

Graham interrupted to say, "With all due respect, I don't buy what you're saying at all."

The rancor, which comes in the lead-up to the 2020 election, is the latest high-profile fight in a Senate increasingly battered by partisan tensions, ranging from Supreme Court nominations to an impeachment trial that ended only four months ago.

Just this past week, the Senate confirmed Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media, despite an active investigation by the D.C. attorney general and an attempt by Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezThomas Kean wins GOP primary to take on Rep. Tom Malinowski Trump administration moves to formally withdraw US from WHO Senate Dems request briefing on Russian bounty wire transfers MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to delay the vote.

“I have been really patient. Every time that I set this for a hearing and they wanted more time, I let that go,” said Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischRepublicans start bracing for shutdown fight in run-up to election GOP's Obama-era probes fuel Senate angst Democrat Paulette Jordan to face incumbent Jim Risch in Idaho Senate race MORE (R-Idaho) as he rejected the attempt to delay Michael Pack’s nomination.

But the Judiciary Committee, in particular, has been at the center of some of the chamber’s biggest fights, including Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughRomney, Collins, Murkowski won't attend GOP convention Susan Collins signals she won't campaign against Biden Hillicon Valley: QAnon scores wins, creating GOP problem | Supreme Court upholds regulation banning robocalls to cellphones | Foreign hackers take aim at homebound Americans | Uber acquires Postmates MORE’s Supreme Court nomination and William BarrBill BarrThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: DC's Bowser says protesters and nation were 'assaulted' in front of Lafayette Square last month; Brazil's Bolsonaro, noted virus skeptic, tests positive for COVID-19 FBI Director Wray warns of Chinese hacking, espionage threats against American companies Executing four white men won't erase death penalty racism MORE’s attorney general nomination. At the same hearing where Graham delayed the subpoena vote, the committee also voted along party lines to send Justin Walker’s D.C. Circuit nomination to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinBottom line Filibuster reform gains steam with Democrats Senate panel votes 21-1 to back Justice IG measure over Graham objections MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, warned that if Graham goes forward with the subpoena, he’ll be setting a long-lasting and, in her view, damaging precedent for how the committee uses its investigatory powers.

“Once the door is opened to proceeding in this manner – to allowing the chairman sweeping, unilateral authority to subpoena political opponents – that door remains open, regardless of which party has majority power,” she said.

Graham, however, argued that Democrats being unwilling to help him investigate “says a lot, I think, not good about this committee.”

“I feel passionately about what I’m doing and why, and I don’t need anybody to validate to me I know what I’m up to. I think I’ve been more than fair. They have a different view and that’s the way it goes,” he added to The Hill.

Johnson successfully got subpoena authority to compel more than 30 individuals to testify and demand a wide swath of documents as he probes what he sees as “corruption” stemming from the Obama administration, including the Russia investigation, the case against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired after lying about his conversations with a Russian ambassador, and embarrassing leaks dating back to the early days of Trump’s presidency. 

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But before Johnson did so, he got an earful from both sides of the aisle who questioned if the investigation was the best use of the committee’s time during a pandemic.

Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersHealth care group launches M ad campaign hitting Trump in battleground states The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump wants schools to reopen, challenged on 'harmless' COVID-19 remark Senate outlook slides for GOP MORE (Mich.), the top Democrat on the committee, said the subpoena request looked like a “fishing expedition” that came even as the Justice Department is investigating much of the same ground.

"To duplicate the Justice Department's efforts now suggests that this pursuit is more about duplicating headlines than any real need for an investigation," Peters said.

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRomney, Collins, Murkowski won't attend GOP convention Trump administration narrows suspects in Russia bounties leak investigation: report Russian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide MORE (R-Utah) said he had struck a deal with Johnson that would let him support the subpoena authority request but not without raising concerns about the probe.

"I believe there are far more urgent priorities the committee should address," Romney said. "I continue to be concerned that this is politically motivated."

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanRomney, Collins, Murkowski won't attend GOP convention Second Republican senator says he'll skip GOP convention Grassley won't attend GOP convention amid coronavirus uptick MORE (R-Ohio) voted to allow Johnson to issue the subpoenas but said he hoped the chairman wouldn’t ultimately do so amid “all of the other things we have on our plate right now” and “unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

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In the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseChamber of Commerce endorses Cornyn for reelection Trump administration narrows suspects in Russia bounties leak investigation: report Russian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide MORE (R-Neb.) also found himself at odds with Graham after he fumed that the public sparring was “bullshit” fueled because there were TV cameras in the room.

“Ninety percent of our committees are about people trolling for sound bites,” Sasse added.

The moment had a perhaps unintended consequence: It rallied Graham to defend Democrats as well as his own right to argue with them.

"I didn’t want to say anybody’s grandstanding. They genuinely disagree with what I’m doing. I genuinely disagree with their approach to how we should do oversight," Graham told The Hill. "Sen. Sasse is frustrated, but I don't want to cheapen what they're doing. I don't think they're playing to the cameras. I think they sincerely believe what they believe."