Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is urging Republicans to focus on Democrats and their tactics in seeking to mount an effective defense of Donald trump on impeachment.
One GOP lawmaker, summing up McConnell’s message to Republicans at a private lunch meeting Tuesday, quoted the GOP leader as saying, “This is going to be about process.”
McConnell recognizes that some members of his conference are uncomfortable defending Trump on charges his administration linked aid to Ukraine to that country’s government running politically motivated investigations meant to help the White House.
As a result, he’s telling his members they have plenty of reason to offer a vigorous defense of Trump, as the president publicly urged them to do Monday, by focusing on Democratic tactics that McConnell and Trump view as unfair.
Senate Republicans also privately make the point that it’s difficult to defend Trump on the substance of the charges against him because so much remains unknown.
GOP lawmakers don’t know the identity of the whistleblower who filed a complaint against Trump or what exactly House Democrats have discovered in their investigation, which has been conducted largely behind closed doors.
McConnell also said Democrats in the minority were treated better by former Speaker Newt GingrichNewton (Newt) Leroy GingrichMORE (R-Ga.) during the impeachment of President Clinton than today’s Republicans.
“What is clear and not in dispute, as Sen. Blunt has pointed out, is the process in the House to which the president is being subjected is totally unprecedented and totally unfair,” McConnell told reporters after the lunch.
“Speaker Albert laid out procedural guidelines during the Nixon episode — Speaker Gingrich during the Clinton impeachment episode — all of which included the kind of basic procedural safeguards that one associates in our country with being treated fairly,” he said.
A Republican senator who spoke on condition of anonymity said McConnell gave his colleagues leeway to express opposition to various Trump actions, such as pulling U.S. troops out of northern Syria, but urged them to stick together on process.
“He feels everybody is free to talk about issues like Ukraine or maybe the Kurds, but to try to conduct an impeachment without any process is very contrary to what happened before,” the lawmaker said. “That pretty much sums it up.”
A second Republican senator said McConnell and Blunt thought it made sense to give the Senate GOP conference a primer on past impeachment proceedings.
“It was a logical second place to go after the informational hearing on how impeachment will work in the Senate so members will know when they are talking about this process why it’s different than the way this has been done before,” the lawmaker said. “It’s one thing to say it’s unfair. It’s another thing to say here are all the boxes that were checked for Clinton and Nixon, and none of these boxes have been checked for this president.”
McConnell’s effort came a day after Trump, at a Cabinet meeting, complained that Democrats are much more unified than Republicans on impeachment.
Yet Republicans say Trump makes it harder on a daily basis for them to defend him.
On Tuesday, Trump compared his impeachment process to a “lynching,” language Senate Republicans did not want to defend. McConnell later told reporters that Trump’s use of the word was “unfortunate.”
“Given the history in our country, I would not compare this to a lynching,” he told reporters.
The GOP leader also distanced himself from Trump’s Oct. 3 claim that McConnell had expressed approval of the content of his controversial July 25 call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which prompted the House to launch impeachment proceedings.
“He read my phone call with the president of Ukraine. Mitch McConnell, he said, ‘That was the most innocent phone call that I’ve read.’ I mean, give me a break,” Trump said.
McConnell said he did not recall the conversation.
“We have not had any conversations on this subject,” he said Tuesday.