The number of co-sponsors of Graham’s impeachment resolution as of 6 p.m. ET last night was 45, meaning that nine Senate Republicans were still holding out. But two of those holdouts, Rob Portman and Dan Sullivan, made no sense. They’re each from red states. They’d have nothing to gain and everything to lose by crossing Trump on impeachment matters (especially Sullivan, who’s up for reelection next fall). Sure enough, Graham himself reported soon after on his Twitter feed that both senators had joined his cause. That left just seven holdouts — but all seven *could* potentially be hard for Graham to get. Or at least harder than the average Republican.
Two anti-Trumpers, two highly vulnerable purple-state senators who are on the ballot next fall, and three retiring senators. Hmmm!
It turns out that the new resolution wasn’t Graham’s first option for attacking the House inquiry. The White House wants him to be more aggressive against Schiff and company and so, per the Dispatch, Graham initially proposed to Senate Republicans that they should send a letter to Pelosi indicating that they were on Trump’s side — not just in his complaints about the procedures Democrats were using but on the merits of the Ukraine matter too. I think Graham, realizing how leery Pelosi is of impeachment, thought that a united front among Senate Republicans on the merits might give her the excuse she’s looking for to drop the inquiry. “Senate Republicans seem to have made up their minds before seeing the evidence,” she might have said. “That’s a dereliction of duty, but there’s nothing I can do about it so let’s move on from impeachment.”
The idea didn’t go over so well in the Republican caucus room, though, because there simply isn’t a united front on the merits of Trump’s defense.
Graham presented the idea of an aggressive letter to Speaker Pelosi, as first reported by The Hill, in which Republican senators would make clear that they would not vote to remove President Trump from office. The proposed letter would have included a defense of the president and a critique of the process run by House Democrats.
Numerous senators voiced concerns about Graham’s proposal. Tom Cotton argued that such a public missive would put vulnerable Republicans up for reelection in 2020 in a difficult spot: sign it, and you’re committing yourself to defend the president; refuse, and you’re making yourself a potential target of Trump’s ire. The former risks alienating conservative skeptics and independents and the latter would infuriate the Trump-friendly GOP base. Graham, whose office did not respond to a request for comment, was reportedly “blindsided” by the negative response from his Senate colleagues.
So, with McConnell’s help, Graham proceeded to Plan B: Forget the merits of the Ukraine matter and focus on process exclusively. Surely the caucus would agree to a resolution criticizing the way Democrats are running the inquiry. That would let all of them earn a little breathing room from the GOP base while they brace themselves for the momentous vote on removal after the president’s trial a month or two from now. And more importantly it would hopefully get TrumpWorld off of Graham’s back. They keep asking him to be a warrior for the president and meanwhile the president keeps making Graham’s job harder by griping about Senate Republicans:
That Graham’s maneuver fell short of satisfying the political bloodlust among Trump’s allies didn’t go unnoticed by his colleagues, many of whom have privately griped in recent days about Trump’s eagerness to air his disapproval of the very people he needs in his corner in the event of an impeachment trial. One top GOP Senate operative said that patience on the Hill is “wearing thin.”
“It’s exhausting and they don’t know what they don’t know in terms of where this is going,” the operative added.
Other aides said that they found the attacks from Trump-allied operatives to be counterproductive.
“It’s an interesting strategy,” a senior Senate GOP aide told The Daily Beast, “to attack Republican senators after they try to defend you.”
I’m surprised that McConnell would get behind Graham’s resolution unless he had commitments in advance from 51 Republicans to support it. If Graham’s resolution fails, it’ll trigger a thunderstorm of media coverage about how Republican solidarity behind Trump might be weaker than everyone thought. Then we’ll have a real sh*tshow between Trump and the Senate GOP. I think Graham *will* end up getting at least five of the seven holdouts in the end, though. After all, unless you’re a stalwart anti-Trumper like Romney, there’s no incentive not to play nice with Trump at this stage of the process. If you’re open to removing him from office later, why turn adversarial so soon? Just vote with Graham, be a team player, and keep your powder dry until the removal vote. Frankly, I don’t think any of the seven except Romney or Murkowski are any real threat to cross the aisle on removal either. Collins and Gardner would be committing political suicide if they did so, and the retirees Alexander, Enzi, and Isakson are loyal Republicans who doubtless move in Republican social circles. Why cast a vote on removal that’ll alienate everyone around them back home when the removal effort won’t remotely approach 67 votes?
The one wrinkle is that if Collins, Gardner, and the retirees have already quietly made up their minds to vote against removal later, then they might choose not to support Graham’s resolution now as a way of tossing Trump’s critics a bone in anticipation of the disappointment to come. They’d all be kidding themselves if they believe anti-Trumpers will care about anything else if they end up opposing removal, but siding with Democrats on Graham’s resolution is one very tiny thing they could all do to signal “bipartisanship.” If they end up refusing to support Graham’s resolution, that’s probably why. It’s not because they’re going to try to oust Trump later, it’s because they aren’t and are looking for conciliatory gestures to pro-removal constituents back home.
Anyway, the complaints about process are a fun sideshow but Republicans “are also keenly aware that there is an expiration date on that approach, given that Democrats soon plan to hold a series of public hearings to lay out their case, raising the possibility that their bind will only deepen as the more information pours out.” That’s why Trump and his inner circle are so peeved at Graham and so dissatisfied with this current stunt. A resolution denouncing Democratic secrecy won’t matter once the proceedings are no longer secret. A Judiciary Committee investigation of Burisma and CrowdStrike led by Graham potentially has much longer legs.
Update: As expected, four of the seven holdouts have joined the team. Who’s left? Exactly whom you’d think.
Graham now says Sens Alexander, Isakson, Gardner and Enzi have also signed on to his impeachment resolution, bringing the total to 50 Senators: https://t.co/NpZ9DYTwLq
Here are the 3 GOP Senators who have not yet signed onto the resolution:
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) October 25, 2019
Collins has no reason not to sign on as well. That’ll make 51, which will make Trump happy. Whether Romney and Murky also climb aboard remains to be seen.