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“That’s the very thing that we need to not be distracted by”

Everybody is freaking out about the Trump Jr. news. Except Senate Republicans.

Orrin Hatch Tom Williams / Getty Images

Everybody at the US Capitol was rocked Tuesday by revelations that Donald Trump Jr. had accepted a meeting with someone whom he had been told was a representative of the Russian government, who had promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Everybody, that is, except Senate Republicans.

Some of them said they hadn’t yet seen the report. Others warned against letting the Russia scandal distract from their work on health care. And a few stepped up to minimize the implications of the news.

The emails were perhaps the most explosive evidence thus far in the Russia scandal. They show Trump Jr.’s communiqués with an associate who promised to set up a meeting with “a Russian government lawyer” who had compromising information about President Trump’s campaign opponent. Trump Jr. tweeted them himself shortly before the New York Times reported their contents.

Even amid competing congressional investigations and a special probe led by a former FBI director, this was the hardest proof yet that senior members of Trump’s team had tried to work behind the scenes with agents of a foreign government during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Nevertheless, as hordes of reporters pressed them for responses, no Republican senators seemed willing to condemn the president’s son. Vox reporters on the Hill heard at least 10 senators respond to questions about the Russia revelations. This is what they said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT): “I don’t think this is relevant”

“He may be the son of the president, but that doesn’t give him authority to speak for the president,” Sen. Orrin Hatch told reporters, asked why the news did not implicate the Trump administration. “I think this is overblown. Donald Trump Jr. is a very fine young guy. I know him personally. He’s smart, he’s decent, he’s honorable. As far as I’m concerned, I think this is overblown.”

“I don’t think [the email chain] is relevant to the administration,” Hatch said.

Told of Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine’s comments that the revelations could amount to treason, Hatch said, “You’ve gotta be kidding.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA): “They want to get their story out”

The contents of the email chain and Trump Jr. being the source behind them left little room for congressional Republicans to come to Trump Jr.’s defense. Nevertheless, some saw an opening: Sen. Chuck Grassley, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, lauded Trump Jr. for his transparency with the emails.

“I think the transparency is the proper thing to do, and he is showing that he wants everybody to know what the situation is,” Grassley told reporters. “As I am finding in so many stories since the election, especially since the Russia things have come up, that everything I have read about him and other people in the family, they are all saying they are willing to testify and they want to get their story out.”

The Trump family and those in their inner circle have repeatedly lied about their interactions with Russian officials. Trump himself has raised skepticism over Russia’s interference in the election altogether, and this week Trump Jr. gave several contradictory defenses of the meeting with the Russian lawyer before releasing the emails.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX): “I don’t really have a reaction”

Nevertheless, most Senate Republicans refused to be distracted.

“I don’t really have a reaction — I’ve been too busy focusing on health care,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said of the email chain, adding that he expected to see Trump Jr. testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC): “That’s the very thing that we need to not be distracted by”

Senate Republicans are stuck on an unpopular health care bill that upward of a dozen of their own members oppose and leadership wants to dispense with before August. They want to move on to a tax overhaul as soon as possible. The government needs to be funded at the end of September. The federal debt ceiling must be raised.

The Russia scandal, in the GOP’s eyes, is a sideshow compared to those priorities.

“It has nothing to do with what we need to get done in August,” Sen. Thom Tillis said at a press conference, where a group of GOP senators urged leadership to cancel their month-long August recess so they could keep working on their legislative agenda. “The process is gonna follow out, and we’ll let the committees of jurisdiction or appropriate folks at the Department of Justice sort that out.”

“But that’s the very thing that we need to not be distracted by,” Tillis continued. “We have specific things that we have to do here. We’ve got to come up with a health care outcome. We’ve got to come up with a tax plan. We’ve got to come up with a spending strategy, and we’ve got to be disciplined and not get distracted by things that may be legitimate but are not right now in our lanes.”

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC): “See ya”

Sen. Richard Burr, who chairs the Intelligence Committee, didn’t have much of anything to say about the email chain. “I’ve seen the same thing that was printed in the paper,” he said.

Asked if he would like to see Trump Jr. testify before the committee, Burr looked out the group of reporters as the elevator doors closed and offered a jovial, “See ya.”

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): “More shoes will drop”

Sen. John McCain, who has grown fond of saying that more revelations about the Trump-Russia connections would come, was one of the few Republicans who seemed to acknowledge the gravity of the situation.

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID): “Until I’ve had a chance to review it, I’m not gonna make a comment”

Still other senators simply said they had not yet seen the news about the president’s son, as of noon on Monday. The story broke around 11 am.

“I’ve actually not heard what he did this morning,” Sen. Mike Crapo told reporters. “Until I’ve had a chance to review it, I’m not gonna make a comment.”

Several of his colleagues took the same tack.

Sen. Thad Chochran (R-MS) says he hasn’t heard about the scandal

Asked what he thought about Trump Jr's emails, Sen. Thad Cochran said that he hadn't seen them.

Asked if he had heard about the email scandal, Cochran simply replied "nope" before walking away.

Sen. David Perdue (R-GA): “I don’t have an opinion about that”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX): No comment

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC): No comment

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