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Vulnerable GOP senators back Graham impeachment resolution

Condemnation of Democrats’ process signals strategy for 2020 hopefuls as probe continues

Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced a resolution condemning the House’s impeachment probe. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Republican senators who could be vulnerable in next year’s elections, including some who have declined to say whether it would be appropriate for a president to use U.S. aid to get political favors from a foreign leader, have signed on to a measure condemning the House impeachment process.

Their support for a resolution introduced in the Senate on Thursday by South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shows the GOP is rallying behind criticism of Democrats’ tactics as a way to blunt questions about President Donald Trump’s behavior.

The resolution calls on the House to vote to open the inquiry and to provide Trump with “fundamental constitutional protections” of due process. By Friday afternoon, all but three GOP senators — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah — had signed on as co-sponsors. 

Three House committees have been using closed-door depositions to investigate whether Trump withheld congressionally approved aid to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate his political rivals. House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff has said the testimony is being kept secret to prevent witnesses from coordinating their stories, but Republicans on the committees have had an opportunity to ask questions and information from the depositions will be made public in the future.

The supporters

Three GOP senators in races that Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates as Toss-ups have co-sponsored the resolution: Arizona’s Martha McSally, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis and  Colorado’s Cory Gardner.

Gardner, who is one of two senators running in a state Hillary Clinton won in 2016, was not listed as an original co-sponsor. It’s unclear when he signed on, but he was on a list of co-sponsors that Graham tweeted Friday afternoon.

“I had hoped Speaker Pelosi would turn away from the sharp partisanship that has driven the House process but she has not,” Gardner said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. “I hope people will read the resolution and that everyone supports a fair and transparent process. This resolution shouldn’t be necessary, but when a serious investigation to get all of the facts turns into a political circus, it’s necessary to be reminded of it.”

Gardner’s has criticized the impeachment process in the past. He dodged reporters’ questions earlier this month about whether it is appropriate for a president to ask a foreign government to investigate a political opponent. 

“Here’s what we see in the House of Representatives: You see a very partisan process taking place,” Gardner said.

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, the only woman in Republican leadership, has also signed on to the resolution as have Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and David Perdue of Georgia, all in races rated competitive by Inside Elections. 

Graham and McConnell are set to face well-funded Democratic opponents in 2020. Former South Carolina state party chairman Jaime Harrison is challenging Graham, while Marine veteran Amy McGrath is taking on McConnell in Kentucky. But Democrats face an uphill climb in those states, which Trump carried by double digits in 2016. Inside Elections rates both races Solid Republican.

Two retiring GOP senators — Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming — were also added as co-sponsors Friday. Alexander’s potential successor, Republican Bill Hagerty, a former U.S. ambassador to Japan who has been endorsed by Trump, announced Friday that he supports Graham’s proposal.

Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson, who is resigning at the end of the year due to health issues, had initially not co-sponsored the resolution since he has not been in  Washington this week because of a pinched nerve and back pain. His spokesperson told CQ Roll Call on Friday that Isakson has decided to co-sponsor the resolution, saying he wanted “to make sure he’s doing his part as a member of the Senate to ensure a fair process.”

The holdouts

Collins is the only GOP holdout up for reelection next year and one of the party’s most vulnerable senators. Her office did not respond to a request for comment. Clinton carried Maine by 3 points in 2016. 

Collins has shied away from commenting on impeachment, noting that she would be a juror if the House sends articles of impeachment for trial in the Senate. Inside Elections rates her race Tilts Republican.

Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, has raised concerns about Trump’s actions. He has not co-sponsored the resolution but appears open to it, telling reporters Thursday that he would like to see the House vote to open the impeachment inquiry.

Murkowski has also been known to break with her party. She recently told the Alaska Daily News that the House’s impeachment probe should be more transparent. 

There are no immediate plans for a vote on Graham’s resolution, which has been referred to the Senat eRules and Administration Committee. 

Niels Lesniewski and Simone Pathé contributed to this report. 

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