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8 Republican senators to watch on impeachment

Senate Republicans aren’t expected to break with Trump, but a handful of lawmakers could feel pressure to do so.

Senators Mitt Romney and Ron Johnson.
Senators Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) attend a special Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental affairs hearing on “The State of Homeland Security after 9/11” at the National September 11th Memorial & Museum on September 9, 2019, in New York City. 
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Congress is back — meaning Senate Republicans are going to have to start answering pointed questions about where they stand on impeachment.

While it’s pretty unlikely enough Republican senators will actually vote to convict President Donald Trump if articles of impeachment are brought against him, members who represent swing states, such as Susan Collins, might feel pressure to defect due to pushback from their constituents. Others, like Mitt Romney, have vocalized opposition to the president in the past and are among the most likely to do so again.

As Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman writes, it’s possible that a definitive statement from a lawmaker like Romney could be the “pressure point” to embolden other Republicans to confront Trump on impeachment.

Thus far, the Senate Republican response to a July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been mixed. According to a Washington Post analysis, roughly 15 Republican lawmakers have expressed concerns or pushed for more information about Trump’s call asking Zelensky for help investigating Hunter Biden, the son of his 2020 rival Joe Biden. Several Republicans have also spoken out in response to Trump pressuring the Chinese government to investigate Hunter Biden, comments the president made publicly to the press.

The other 38 Republicans, meanwhile, have sought to undercut the whistleblower’s credibility and thrown their backing behind the president. No Republican senators have gone so far as to express support for the impeachment inquiry.

In order for the Senate to convict the president of charges, 20 Senate Republicans would have to join with the 47-member Democratic caucus in order to reach the 67-person supermajority threshold that’s needed. Still, any breaks within the Republican conference don’t look great for Trump and help give Democrats further ammunition to use against him in the 2020 election. Trump himself is counting on Republican senators’ support, reportedly calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at frequent intervals to stress the need for GOP unity.

For now, the Republicans facing the most pressure — particularly those up for reelection in 2020 — are broadly saying they need more “facts” before they can take a conclusive stance on Trump’s calls for foreign help. Their responses offer a way to dodge questions about his behavior while maintaining some semblance of accountability.

With new information coming out seemingly every day and with Congress in session once more, here are a slew of lawmakers we’re watching and what they’ve said on the subject so far:

Mitt Romney (R-UT)

Romney, an on-again, off-again, critic of the president, has offered some of the strongest rebukes of Trump’s comments about China and Ukraine:

“When the only American citizen President Trump singles out for China’s investigation is his political opponent in the midst of the Democratic nomination process, it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated.”

He’s declined to comment more directly on the impeachment inquiry, however:

“I haven’t spoken with any other Republican senator about the impeachment process, either in person or by email or text. I haven’t discussed that with anybody.” (The Salt Lake Tribune)

Susan Collins (R-ME)

Collins is among the most vulnerable Republicans this cycle and will need to win over a hefty number of independents to hang onto her seat. She’s criticized Trump’s comments about China:

“I thought the president made a big mistake by asking China to get involved in investigating a political opponent. It’s completely inappropriate.” (Bangor Daily News)

But she’s declined to take a stand explicitly on the impeachment inquiry, citing her role as a potential juror:

If there are articles of impeachment I would be a juror just as I was in the trial for President Clinton, and as a juror I think it’s inappropriate for me to reach conclusions about evidence or to comment on the proceedings in the House.” (Bloomberg)

Ben Sasse (R-NE)

Sasse, a one-time Trump critic who’s since earned the president’s endorsement ahead of a reelection fight in 2020, has slammed the president’s comments about China:

“Hold up: Americans don’t look to Chinese commies for the truth. If the Biden kid broke laws by selling his name to Beijing, that’s a matter for American courts, not communist tyrants running torture camps.” (Omaha World-Herald)

When it comes to the impeachment inquiry, Sasse is focused on rounding up more information:

“I’m glad the President agreed with the requests a number of us have been making that the administration release this unredacted transcript. The President should also provide all additional relevant materials to the Committee. At a time when foreign powers work every day to exploit our divisions, it’s important for public trust that Americans know what did and did not happen here. We need shared facts. As the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence fulfills its oversight responsibilities, this first release is the right choice for the country.” (Sasse press statement)

Joni Ernst (R-IA)

Ernst, a senator who’s fighting to keep her seat in a swing state, dodged questions about Trump’s Ukraine call during the recess:

“I don’t know that we have that information in front of us.” (Associated Press)

She’s argued, however, that the whistleblower should be shielded from potential retaliation:

“Whistleblowers should be protected.” (The Washington Post)

Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)

Murkowski, a Republican who’s broken with Trump in the past on Kavanaugh and the Affordable Care Act, has pushed for more information about the allegations raised against Trump:

“What I find equally troubling is that even before there has been any considered review, that people have decided. There is either ‘absolutely, you must get rid of him tomorrow’ viewpoint or ‘he must stay in and no questions asked.’”

“I’m also trying to think to myself, if this set of facts were to be in front of me and the president was President Hillary Clinton as opposed to President Donald Trump, would I be viewing this in a different way? Because if I do, that’s wrong. I shouldn’t view whether what is right and what is wrong based on the political affiliation of the individual that we are considering.” (The Hill)

A Murkowski spokesperson has previously said that the senator will work on informing herself while the House conducts its impeachment inquiry:

“In terms of the formal impeachment inquiry —that lies in the House of Representatives. Right now the Senate doesn’t have a part in this until the House reviews and they act. Until the point the Senate has a role in this, Senator Murkowski will wait to see the process play out in the House. Separately, she’s doing all she can to make sure she’s informed on the current allegations and will review the full transcript from the phone call in question when it’s released.” (KTUU News)

Martha McSally (R-AZ)

While McSally was pretty critical of an impeachment inquiry when it was first announced, calling it a “distraction,” she’s since shifted her tone quite a bit. Facing a tough election in 2020, she recently refrained from taking a decisive position on the inquiry:

“This a serious matter, like I’ve said, and I think we’ve seen some partisan dynamics going on. And I think as Americans, none of us should be throwing around the ‘I-word’ as if it’s a joke.

“I think people want us to take a serious look at this and not have it be just partisan bickering going on.” (Talking Points Memo)

“I am going to, when information is presented to me that’s been investigated by people who are not being partisan, we will share and be in our role going forward.” (Arizona Republic)

Cory Gardner (R-CO)

Gardner, a vulnerable senator who’s up for reelection in 2020, evaded questions over the recess about Trump’s requests for foreign government interference:

“It’s an answer that you get from a very serious investigation.” (Associated Press)

Meanwhile, Gardner has criticized the impeachment inquiry as a partisan effort:

“I joined my Senate colleagues in unanimously supporting the release of the whistleblower report, and I support the Senate Intelligence Committee’s on-going bipartisan review to gather all of the facts. Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment inquiry to appease the far-left isn’t something the majority of Americans support and will sharply divide the country.” (CPR News)

Lamar Alexander (R-TN)

Alexander, a lawmaker who’s retiring from his seat, has called Trump’s conduct “inappropriate” but notes that he sees impeachment as a “mistake”:

“It’s inappropriate for the president to be talking with foreign governments about investigating his political opponents, but impeachment would be a mistake. An election, which is just around the corner, is the right way to decide who should be president. Impeachment has never removed a president. It will only divide the country further.” (WREG News)

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