House impeachment vote scrambles Senate Republicans' Trump defense

Senate Republicans quickly coalesced behind an effort to condemn the House’s impeachment inquiry late last week. Now their plans are up in the air.

After House Democrats announced they’d vote to establish the next steps for their probe, Republicans were divided over whether to continue their push for a resolution intended to stick up for President Donald Trump.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said the House Democrats’ move “looks like kind of a fig leaf” after sustained criticisms of their process and said the GOP resolution is still needed.

“I would think it’s still important,” Hawley said. “It’s not just the lack of initial authorization ... the closed-door sessions, the denial of subpoena rights to the minority, the denial of access to the president’s counsel. All of that stuff is historically atypical.”

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) disagreed, arguing Republicans got what they wanted and should declare victory.

“I’m glad the House has responded, and they're going to have transparent proceedings,” Fischer said. “We’ve seen what we’ve wanted to see.”

The conflict underscores how Senate Republicans have struggled to unite on a response to the House’s fast-moving impeachment inquiry into Trump, which centers on his alleged efforts to withhold military aid to Ukraine in an effort to secure an investigation into political rival Joe Biden.

In fact, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell never committed to a floor vote on the measure in the first place.

Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said whether his committee takes action on the Senate resolution depends on how Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s move this week plays out.

“I read her letter and it could mean not very much or maybe it will be more than ‘we’re just going to formalize the unfair way we’ve been doing things,’” he said. “It does mean we should see what she says.”

The resolution, introduced last week by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and McConnell, came after Trump complained that Republicans were not doing enough to defend him from impeachment.

The nonbinding Senate resolution would call for the House to hold a vote to open the impeachment inquiry, provide Trump with “due process” and give House Republicans subpoena power.

The measure has the support from 50 of the 53 Senate Republicans, with Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska the holdouts.

And Trump has been ebullient about the new defense effort.

"I appreciate the support of [Graham and McConnell] and their Great Senate Republican colleagues, on the resolution condemning the Do Nothing Democrats for their Witch Hunt Impeachment inquiry, behind closed the basement of the United States Capitol!” Trump tweeted on Friday after Graham introduced the resolution.

Republicans have focused their impeachment complaints on the House’s impeachment process, lambasting closed-door hearings and the leaking of testimony from key witnesses. But the planned House vote this week — which signals a move into a more public phase — could put those complaints to rest.

Graham, a close Trump apply, credited himself and his colleagues for “making the House [Democrats’] position untenable.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that the overwhelming response House Democrats heard from the American people and Senate Republicans in support of my resolution forced their hand,” Graham said in a statement after Pelosi announced this week’s vote.

But McConnell has not promised to hold a vote of his own.

The Kentucky Republican notably referred the resolution to the Senate Rules Committee rather than bringing it directly to the floor.

While that follows the Senate’s regular order process, it also could be shelved there for weeks before it sees a committee vote. After that, the resolution could be tied up on the Senate floor if Democrats force procedural votes, which seems likely. Democrats could also filibuster the resolution — which would require 60 votes to overcome.

And while a vote on the Senate resolution could show the president that Republicans are standing up for him, it also could take limited floor time away from other priorities like funding the government and confirming more judicial nominees.

Graham’s resolution had an uncertain launch, as more than a dozen Republicans initially didn’t co-sponsor the resolution. But support quickly built within the GOP on Thursday and Friday, so that only the three Republicans have not endorsed it.

Both Collins and Murkowski said Monday they did not plan to co-sponsor the Graham-McConnell resolution.

“I have been critical of the House not holding a vote to authorize the inquiry, but the House determines its own procedures,” Collins said, who has not decided whether or not she would vote for the resolution if it came to the floor. “Just as I don’t like it when House members try to tell us to abolish the filibuster, I’m not sure it’s productive for the Senate to try to dictate to the House how to conduct the inquiry.”

Murkowski, in a statement, also criticized Pelosi and House Democrats for handling the "impeachment inquiry poorly" and for a "serious lack of transparency." But she added that "as awful as their process is, the formal impeachment inquiry lies in the House, and it’s not the Senate’s role to dictate to the House how to determine their own rules.”

Romney said in an interview Monday that he would look at the resolution but noted that may no longer be necessary.

“From the beginning, I've been reluctant to weigh in on process, and it looks like Speaker Pelosi has scheduled a vote so that may be overtaken by events," Romney said.

Several senators reiterated that the decision to bring the resolution up to a vote rests with McConnell.

“I think it’s going to be entirely up to the leader at this point,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said.

“If you’d asked me this morning I’d say, ‘Yes,’” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said on whether the Senate should vote on the Graham-McConnell resolution. “Now with Pelosi announcing that they’re going to take a vote in the House, I think that may factor in. ... That’s something.”