September 27, 2019

McConnell Attempts to Shield GOP From Potential Trump Fallout
(Bloomberg) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has tried to insulate Republicans in case more damaging information comes out about President Donald Trump and swings public opinion, even as he lashes out at Democrats for pursuing an impeachment inquiry.The Kentucky Republican has accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of caving to the Democratic “far left” in pursuing “a never-ending impeachment parade in search of a rationale.”Still, he has yet to offer a vigorous public defense of Trump and his interactions with the Ukrainian president, which are at the center of the latest controversy. And he allowed passage of a resolution pushed by Democratic leader Chuck Schumer that urged the White House to let lawmakers see a whistle-blower’s complaint about the president’s actions.Several Republican senators are following McConnell’s lead, offering circumspect reactions to the release of a White House memo of Trump’s call and the whistle-blower complaint that flagged it as potentially criminal. On Thursday, an increasingly common response from GOP senators was that they’re withholding judgment because they could be called upon to act as jurors if Trump is impeached in the House.“The question that my House colleagues are having to contemplate right now is whether or not it rises to the level of a high crime or misdemeanor” necessary for impeachment, Senator Todd Young, a Republican from Indiana, said Thursday. “I’m a potential juror in this whole situation if they determine that it is. Jurors aren’t supposed to talk.”While some Republicans have expressed disapproval of Trump’s conduct in the past, Pelosi’s impeachment threat has elevated the stakes for lawmakers expressing their opinion.Since his initial comments Tuesday, McConnell used his speeches on the Senate floor to defend Trump’s border wall and to implore Democrats to pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal. He hasn’t commented on the whistle-blower’s report released Thursday, but he said in a statement to Politico Wednesday that from what he saw in the rough transcript of the call, it was “laughable to think this is anywhere close to an impeachable offense.”McConnell also took the rare step on Tuesday of agreeing to join Schumer’s resolution calling for the Trump administration to immediately hand the whistle-blower complaint over to the House and Senate intelligence committees.Perhaps even more significant, the resolution was adopted via unanimous consent -- a warning to the White House from the lawmakers who would determine the president’s fate if he is impeached in the House. Two-thirds of the Senate would have to convict Trump to remove him from office, and no Republican has yet said Trump’s conduct was worthy of impeachment.Allowing Schumer’s resolution to pass without a fight protected McConnell’s Republicans from potential accusations that they were aiding a cover-up. That still allowed them to criticize Pelosi, as McConnell did, for a “rush to judgment” by declaring an impeachment inquiry before she had all the facts.Lawmakers who would have the task of evaluating the president will have to decide whether Trump committed an impeachable offense. The House’s inquiry will look into Trump’s decision to withhold aid for Ukraine while pressing that country to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, now a leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.McConnell has said that Congress needs to get the facts and that senators want to protect whistle-blowers who go through the proper channels to lodge their concerns. He has not backed up the president’s call to investigate the Bidens.Senator Rick Scott, a Florida Republican, said it’s appropriate to dig further into what transpired and have a “normal process” through the intelligence committee.“I think we should look at this and understand exactly what happened here,” he said.Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, said his panel is beginning it’s own review and “is committed to getting to the bottom” of questions about the Ukraine issue. “There’s a lot we have to learn,” he said.‘Nothing Burger’Some Republican senators, however, have hewed more closely to Trump’s talking points, raising questions about Biden’s conduct as vice president and declaring that the rough transcript of the phone call shows no explicit threat from the president in order to exact a favor from Ukraine.One notable loyal ally for Trump is South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He has routinely dismissed any suggestion that the president’s conduct was out of line.“This phone call is a nothing burger in terms of a quid pro quo,” Graham said. “The president of the United States did not remotely suggest to the Ukraine, ‘If you don’t do my political bidding against the Bidens I’m going to cut your money off.’”Foreign Aid HoldupMcConnell has made no secret of his disagreement with the Trump administration’s decision earlier this year to hold up aid for Ukraine.He said this week he had worked for months behind the scenes to have the Trump administration deliver the congressionally appropriated funds, pressing both the secretary of Defense and the secretary of State on the matter personally and also having his staff engage the administration.He told reporters on Tuesday, a day before release of the call memo, he had not been given any explanation for why the aid had been delayed -- further insulating himself from Trump.Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, said some Republicans have privately told him they are concerned about the new developments, but he doesn’t expect them to break with Trump “yet.” He said many Republicans seem glad that Congress is about to take a two-week break, which will let them “avoid questions” from reporters in the Capitol.Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy said it will be interesting to see what his Republican colleagues say after they’ve had a chance to speak with their constituents.“What matters here is not first reactions of congressional Republicans but first reactions of voters,” Murphy said. “I think voters are going to see this as a stinking fish.”\--With assistance from Evan Sully.To contact the reporters on this story: Steven T. Dennis in Washington at sdennis17@bloomberg.net;Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net;Daniel Flatley in Washington at dflatley1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Kevin Whitelaw at kwhitelaw@bloomberg.net, Joe Sobczyk, Anna EdgertonFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
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