Sasse pans Trump campaign’s election fraud allegations

Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse is strongly pushing back against President Donald Trump’s attempts to contest the election with lawsuits and claims of fraud, observing Thursday that Trump’s lawyers have “refused to actually allege grand fraud” in court.

Sasse’s statement was perhaps the most pointed Republican rebuttal yet to Trump’s weeks-long refusal to accept the results of the presidential election. Republicans have mostly declined to criticize Trump’s ongoing effort to overturn the election, which included a press conference Thursday in which Trump campaign lawyer Rudy Giuliani baselessly alleged “massive fraud” in Michigan.

“Wild press conferences erode public trust. So no, obviously Rudy and his buddies should not pressure electors to ignore their certification obligations under the statute. We are a nation of laws, not tweets,” Sasse said.

Later Thursday night, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said the Trump campaign’s pressure tactics on election officials amount to an attempt to “subvert the will of the people.”

“It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American President,” Romney said. Romney was the only Republican to support removing Trump from office during his impeachment trial.

Trump is set to meet with Michigan’s GOP statehouse leaders on Friday as the state moves toward certifying election results that currently show Biden leading by more than 150,000 votes. Sasse panned Trump’s chances of overturning the result in Michigan.

“When Trump campaign lawyers have stood before courts under oath, they have repeatedly refused to actually allege grand fraud — because there are legal consequences for lying to judges,” Sasse said. "President Trump lost Michigan by more than 100,000 votes, and the campaign and its allies have lost in or withdrawn from all five lawsuits in Michigan for being unable to produce any evidence.”

Sasse was one of the first GOP senators to recognize Biden as the president-elect, but a growing number of Republicans in the Senate are starting to admit that Trump has little path to the White House. They’re also increasingly questioning the tactics that the Trump campaign is resorting to.

“They have to be able to show that proof. I haven't seen proof yet,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) on Fox News Radio's "The Guy Benson Show." She said the best venue for their allegations is the courts.

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Sen. Pat Toomey to retire from politics in blow to GOP

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey formally announced Monday he will neither run for reelection nor run for governor in 2022, a major blow to Republicans' long-term plans of competing statewide in Pennsylvania.

Toomey explained the curious timing of his announcement as a reaction to all the inquiries he’d received about running for either the governor’s office or reelection. The two-term fiscal conservative said he decided within the past few days to bow out of politics and head to the private sector and decided to disclose his plans in the middle of the 2020 presidential campaign because he wanted to be transparent.

"I've made a decision, it's not going to change, and I want everybody to know," Toomey said. He informed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) before his announcement, according to a source briefed on the conversation. The news leaked out Sunday, and was first reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer and confirmed by POLITICO.

Toomey said he supports President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and would be open to serving as a surrogate and campaigning for a president whom he didn’t endorse until Election Day in 2016: “I hope to be serving these last two years with President Donald Trump reelected. I support his campaign, I support his reelection."

He also said he is "cautiously optimistic" his party would retain its majority at the ballot box this fall amid a fierce battle for the Senate, which would make him Senate Banking Committee chair for his last two years.

Toomey is the only statewide elected Republican politician in office in the Keystone State, though it remains a presidential battleground and top target for both parties. Trump, however, is trailing in the state by significant margins and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) was easily reelected in 2018, suggesting a tough road ahead for Republicans winning statewide.

The two-term senator and former House member asserted that “if I decided to run I would have won again.” Toomey defeated Democrat Katie McGinty in 2016 by 1.5 percentage points, a victory that helped provide McConnell’s six-year majority that he’s now in danger of losing. He said the realization that he will have spent 18 of 24 years as a politician drove his decision to return to the private sector.

Toomey's move also puts Republicans at an immediate disadvantage as they survey the 2022 Senate landscape.

Pickup opportunities for the GOP may be limited to Democratic-leaning states like New Hampshire, Colorado and Nevada as well as whoever wins this year's Arizona Senate election. By contrast, Republicans will have have to defend Toomey's seat as well as seats held by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Burr has already announced he will retire.

And while Toomey’s retirement is a loss for the Republican Party, it also will leave a void in the Senate, where Toomey remains something of an outlier. Though a die-hard fiscal conservative, Toomey occasionally broke with his party. He is one of just two Senate Republicans still serving that supports expanded background checks on gun sales and is the only member of his conference to oppose Trump’s new trade deal with Mexico and Canada.

His responses to reporters in the Senate hallways are often curt as he dashes from his office to the Senate floor, but he’s also been among the most willing Republicans to criticize Trump, sometimes mildly and other times with gusto. Toomey loathes many of Trump’s tariffs and trade policies, voted to block Trump’s national emergency declaration at the border and said “commuting Roger Stone’s sentence is a mistake.”

Toomey also called Trump’s actions during his impeachment trial “inappropriate,” though he voted to acquit the president. But though he's clearly not entirely comfortable with the style of the brash president, Toomey said Trump’s conduct had no bearing on his own decision-making.

“I decided early on I am not responsible for the president’s Twitter feed, I am not responsible for editing his comments in any given medium. I work with this president on a regular basis, it’s a very constructive relationship,” Toomey told reporters. “When I’ve disagreed with him, which I have, I haven’t been bashful about saying so. But that has nothing to do with this decision.”

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Romney backs vote on Supreme Court nominee, clearing way for Trump

Sen. Mitt Romney said Tuesday he would support a floor vote to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, essentially clinching consideration of President Donald Trump’s nominee this year despite the impending election.

Just two Republican senators have asked for the party to put the brakes on the confirmation. And with a 53-seat majority, Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) now has the votes he needs to move forward with a nominee.

The move is a blow to Democrats’ hopes of keeping the seat vacant for the next president, potentially their nominee, Joe Biden. But Romney said he had no qualms about Democrats' charges of hypocrisy or about strengthening the high court’s conservative majority.

“My liberal friends have over many decades gotten very used to the idea of having a liberal court, but that's not written in the stars,” the Utah Republican told reporters after this decision. He called it “appropriate for a nation that is … center-right to have a court which reflects center-right points of view.”

Given his criticisms of Trump and vote to remove him from office during the impeachment trial earlier this year, there was some question about where Romney would come down on a Supreme Court nominee. And though Romney’s position doesn’t mean Trump’s yet-to-be-named nominee will definitely have the votes to be confirmed, it does mean McConnell and Trump can move forward without delay.

Trump tweeted Tuesday that he plans to announce his nominee on Saturday; Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa are seen as the top contenders. A meeting Trump had with Barrett on Monday went very well, according to a Republican close to the White House. "Trump thought she was very smart, very prepared, held herself with lots of dignity and poise," the person said. Trump plans to meet with Lagoa on Friday.

Senate Republicans on the Judiciary Committee met midday Tuesday to discuss different scenarios for how quickly they can process the nominee. No final decision was made, but a hearing could take place starting the week of October 12, according to a GOP aide. Around the same time as Trump's tweet, Republicans also decided to wait to announce their schedule until Trump makes his pick, said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).

GOP leaders are still mulling whether to try to fill the vacancy before the election or wait until a lame-duck session, but the prevailing view in the party is to move as quickly as possible.

“People are very supportive of the idea of moving forward. In terms of the timing, that’s still up in the air,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.). “Speaking for me personally? Yes. I think it would be a good idea for us to move forward [before the election]. But obviously, we have a lot of different members who might have different positions.”

Trump and some Senate allies are pushing a preelection confirmation, though leaders are noncommittal about timing. Thune said it was McConnell’s decision. Romney said he had no preference on timing but also no qualms about conducting a confirmation either before or after the election.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) predicted Tuesday that Trump's nominee would be confirmed before the election and said he would "keep the process like we had it before" when asked about the length of the confirmation hearing. It would a lightning-fast confirmation by Senate standards and occur exceptionally close to the election.

"My sense is that he is going to wait until there's an announcement, and then he's going to make a final decision" on timing, Hawley said.

Other potential swing votes, like Republican Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said on Monday evening they do not oppose considering a nomination this year. Only Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine have said the seat shouldn't be filled this close to the election, and without Romney taking that view there’s scant possibility of keeping the seat vacant this year.

Romney said he was merely following the law in making his decision to allow consideration of Trump’s nominee rather than taking a position based on the recent blockade of President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, during the 2016 election. Because the opposition party controlled the Senate in 2016, Romney said, Democrats’ arguments about that move being unfair did not weigh on his decision regarding Ginsburg’s replacement.

Because the president’s party controls the Senate this time around, Romney said it was reasonable for the GOP to move forward in considering Trump’s nominee in 2020.

“It wasn't unfair because it was consistent with history. It was consistent with precedent, it was consistent with the Constitution,” Romney told reporters. “That the Merrick Garland decision was unfair, and so therefore it has to be made up by doing something which also wouldn't make a lot of sense — which is saying to President Trump you can't get your nominee, either — that just doesn't follow.”

Democrats took a different view. For the second day in a row, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) took to the floor to castigate McConnell and his members. He read Republican quotes from 2016 defending the Garland blockade, throwing them back in the GOP’s face four years later.

“That’s how they justified the unprecedented blockade of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. No vote during a presidential year because we have to let the people decide,” Schumer said. “Now: ‘Whoops, didn’t mean it.’”

Marianne LeVine and Nancy Cook contributed to this report.

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‘We’re going to fill it’: Republicans ready for any Supreme Court vacancy

Senate Republicans are quietly beginning to contemplate the possibility of an election-year confirmation battle for the Supreme Court.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s hospitalization this week and the looming end of the Supreme Court’s term raise the prospect of yet another prized vacancy for President Donald Trump. And if there is a surprise opening or retirement in the months before the presidential election, GOP senators plan to act on it, despite denying President Barack Obama a Supreme Court seat in an election year.

Republicans say they wish Ginsburg a swift recovery and have no inside knowledge of a retirement but are prepared to move if a vacancy presents itself.

“We’re going to fill it” if there is one, said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 GOP leader. “With Justice Scalia ... people might not have thought he was the one, because he wasn’t the oldest at the time. You just never know.”

So in what’s already been the most consequential year for politics in a generation, with a presidential impeachment and a rampaging pandemic, Capitol Hill could get significantly crazier.

“If you thought the Kavanaugh hearing was contentious this would probably be that on steroids,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “Nevertheless, if the president makes a nomination then it’s our responsibility to take it up.”

While no one says they expect a Supreme Court vacancy, GOP senators also acknowledge it’s plausible that Trump could find himself with a third nominee. And one thing is clear: Most Republicans have no qualms about approving a Supreme Court pick from a president in their own party, even if it is an election year.

In 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said voters should decide in the election which president should choose the next Supreme Court justice because the Senate and White House were controlled by different parties. And in the Trump era, he’s repeatedly asserted that he would fill a vacancy in 2020.

McConnell and his allies argue the situation is different because Republicans control both the White House and the Senate. They say that makes the situation far different than when Obama was president and McConnell refused to even hold a hearing for Merrick Garland.

Democrats acknowledge they could get run over in the next eight months. Supreme Court nominees can now be confirmed by a bare majority after McConnell changed the rules in 2017 to overcome a Democratic filibuster of Neil Gorsuch, Antonin Scalia’s successor.

“They’re not troubled by inconsistencies,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). “It would be completely inconsistent with everything that was said [in 2016]. But we knew when they were saying it they didn’t mean it. We knew that was a situational answer.”

The remaining months of Trump’s first term could also be the last chance the GOP has to put its stamp on the courts for years to come. McConnell could lose his majority or Trump could be ousted by former Vice President Joe Biden — which means Republicans would take no chances and move quickly to fill an empty seat on the high court.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., questions Boeing Company President and Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg as he appears before a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on 'Aviation Safety and the Future of Boeing's 737 MAX' on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“My guess is yes. That’s ultimately a decision the leader makes. But I think you’ve heard him speak to the subject before. He believes if there was a vacancy, he’d fill it,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the GOP whip. “Confirmation hearings in the age of COIVD-19 would be very interesting but I’m sure no less contentious than the last one.”

Republican senators are not publicly pushing for a vacancy nor are they advertising their plans to fill any that presents itself. However, the last two vacancies occurred in election years. And Trump already has a list of potential Supreme Court picks.

In a brief interview, Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) declined to say there was a cut-off to when a new vacancy might be considered. His predecessor, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), declined to hold a hearing for Garland.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said a Supreme Court opening represents the “ultimate hypothetical” — but one Republicans would be prepared to respond to whenever it occurs.

“There’s no cut off,” said Blunt, the No. 4 GOP leader.

In addition to Ginsburg’s health, senators are also keeping tabs on whether any other justices will retire. Four justices are 70 or older: Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

When Anthony Kennedy retired in 2018 and sparked the confirmation fight over Justice Brett Kavanaugh, he made his announcement in late June after the spring term concluded. That allowed the Senate GOP to confirm Kavanaugh before midterms that threatened their majority.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 12:  U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) speaks during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee March 12, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a former Supreme Court clerk, said he had heard no inside chatter about an impending vacancy. But he said that given the age of the court’s current members, “you have to be prepared.”

“I would be very surprised if we didn’t move forward with hearings and try to fill the seat. I’m sure it would be very controversial, principally because of the balance of the court,” Hawley said. “If it’s replacing someone like Justice Ginsburg, that would be a big shift, that would be a big deal.”

In that hypothetical scenario, the GOP would need the support of 50 of its 53-member majority to fill a vacancy. Vice President Mike Pence can cast a tie-breaking vote.

Still, at least one Republican senator believes the approaching election should weigh on any decision to fill an empty seat.

“You’re coming pretty close, though, to the presidential election,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the only Republican to oppose Kavanaugh. “That is something that you factor into these discussions about how we move forward.”

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Romney and Sinema say feds ‘behind the curve’ on tracking coronavirus

Sens. Mitt Romney and Kyrsten Sinema are raising alarms that the federal government is “behind the curve” in tallying the scope of the coronavirus’s spread in the United States, pressing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to quickly devise a real-time national system for tracking the pandemic.

The Utah Republican and Arizona Democrat sent a letter to CDC Director Robert Redfield on Thursday laying out the challenges the United States is facing in trying to assess an accurate national picture for the disease’s creep across the country. So far, more than 850,000 Americans have contracted the virus and over 43,500 have died. The bipartisan pair conclude that they are “deeply concerned” about the state of affairs in tracking how many people have it and where, according to a copy provided to POLITICO.

In an interview on Thursday, Romney bluntly laid out his worries about the federal government’s inability to get a grip of the scope of the disease in real time. He said earlier this spring he spoke to Redfield and asked for information on the ages and conditions of people being put into intensive care units.

Senate Security and Governmental Affairs Committee member Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., listens to witnesses during a hearing on 2020 census on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Redfield “was unable to provide almost any information on that front,” Romney said, explaining the patchwork reporting system that hospitals and states use to report coronavirus infections. Some of them are done in pen and pencil which “struck me as the kind of thing that I would have expected from the 1960s, not the 2020s,” Romney said.

“We have one eye closed and the other eye is clouded over instead of having a clear, real time dashboard of all the patients in the country," Romney said.

Romney made clear he was not blaming Redfield, the CDC or even President Donald Trump and his administration, even though Romney has been the GOP senator most critical of the president over the past year and voted to remove him from office during the Senate's impeachment trial. He laid the current predicament at the feet of lackluster, long-running funding from Congress and lack of focus from several administrations.

“I blame, if you will, Congress and administrations, all of us who are responsible for public health not blowing the whistle on this,” Romney said. Notably, Congress on Thursday was finalizing approval of $25 billion for testing for coronavirus as part of a $484 billion coronavirus relief measure.

But that's only a piece of the puzzle, the senators say. Even if testing expands, policymakers and politicians can't make informed decisions without a treasure trove of data.

In the letter, Sinema and Romney indicated how problematic it could be for decisions to be made to reopen economies without a clear picture of what is happening nationwide. They expressed concern that there isn’t standardized data from each state and asked the CDC for a comprehensive look at state-by-state case information, hospitalization rates, patients’ treatment status, ICU statistics and demographics.

“Here we are at the end of April, we’ve had this now for a quarter of a year or longer and we’re still not quite certain who is getting impacted and why,” Romney added. “It’s very hard to make clear-eyed decisions without full data on where the disease exists.”

In a statement, Sinema said she’s also “urging the CDC to implement a contact-tracing system that will keep Arizonans safe and help save lives.”

Sinema might have some extra sway on the matter, as she was named by Trump to a congressional task force on reopening the economy. Romney was the only Republican senator to be left out and Trump said it was because he holds a grudge against Romney's impeachment vote.

“Oh, I don’t worry about those things,” Romney said with a chuckle.

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‘Let’s hope to heck that it works’: Pandemic pressure mounts on Congress

As President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial closed two months ago, 2020 was shaping up to be perhaps the lamest year in Congress in decades. Some judges would be confirmed, lawmakers would punt on the toughest issues and all eyes would turn to the presidential election.

Instead, the coronavirus pandemic will define the 116th Congress even more than earth-shaking events that just months ago seemed to embody the wild days of government under President Donald Trump. The third ever presidential impeachment trial, a battle over Trump’s unprecedented use of executive power to build his border wall and the longest government shutdown in U.S. history now all seem quaint.

After that marathon of drama, leaders in both chambers expected a breather heading into the fall, the usual pre-election slowdown. Now, the House and the Senate are trying to stop the next Great Depression and save thousands of lives on the fly. The crisis has utterly consumed Congress, changing basically everything about the way the institution works and its priorities, according to interviews with more than a dozen senators and multiple aides in both parties.

“These are major, major policy levers that have just never been pulled before,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) of the $2.2 trillion effort to aid unemployed workers, small business and corporations. “We’ll probably be studying this for some time. And let’s hope to heck that it works.”

The Coronavirus Congress is sure to go down in history as the most consequential legislature in a generation or more. But whether the House and Senate can stabilize the economy and fight the disease will shape more than just lawmakers’ legacies — it’s also likely to determine their fates in November and control of Capitol Hill.

At-risk lawmakers are trying to push all that to the back of their minds. Many have essentially frozen their campaigns at the precise moment they would normally be making the election their main focus.

“The thing that we’re trying to do is to try to not think about that. The perceptions and the politics of this are truly taking a backseat for us,” said Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who faces an uphill battle for reelection this fall. “I will be judged. I’m happy to be judged on whatever I say and do at that point come November.”

At times, Congress has put away its partisan swords to pass massive pieces of legislation to respond to the disease, including the unheard of unanimous votes for March's "Phase 3" package. But bad habits die hard: on Thursday, Senate Democrats and Republicans deadlocked over an extension of small business relief, leaving the timing and scope of the next round of aid uncertain.

Still, there’s simply no end in sight to the amount of money Congress is likely to dedicate to the crisis before it — and yet some economists fear Washington is not moving quickly enough to fill the growing hole in the economy.

The gravity of the situation is just beginning to sink in with elected officials whose lives and jobs have been upended just like the rest of the public. Lawmakers are now scattered around the country, some stuck in D.C. and others quarantined in their houses. Their jobs toggle between constituent services and big picture legislative thinking as they pore over grim projections that change hourly.

“The landscape is changing so quickly,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).

“I don’t know if many of us have had time to even process it,” added Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).

Caucus meetings are done by conference call. No one knows when Congress will come back for business as usual.

Aides worry about logistics and try to virtually staff their bosses, setting up Skype studios to do TV hits. Some TV stations aren’t even letting guests inside; Hawley’s outdoor hit on Fox News last week was punctuated by bird chirps piercing the air.

Senators work the phone for hours as they deal with a flood of interest in small business grants and loans, cut deals for medical supplies and call each other to commiserate and try and plan the next round of trillion-dollar spending.

“We’re really busy,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who’s helping broker deals for more supplies and trying to relax restrictions on new testing in his state and tariffs on goods needed during the pandemic.

“No possible way would I have imagined my making calls to federal officials on a Saturday in spring trying to get more guidance so that our companies can make protective gear,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has served three terms in the Senate and two terms as governor and done stints as a Cabinet secretary and university president. But he doesn’t have the luxury of easing into retirement at the end of the year as he finds himself in the middle of what he calls a “fascinating moment,” if also a dire one.

“I’ve been on the phone until my neck hurts,” Alexander said. “I find myself sort of exhausted at the end of the day from the phone calls and the discussions I’m having about the present and what comes next.”

Both personally and as legislators, the coronavirus has had widespread consequences on Capitol Hill. Several House members have been infected and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) became the first senator to test positive, alarming all the Senate Republicans who had come close to him and thrusting some into quarantine. Alexander lived in one room of his house once he returned home, and his wife in another.

“It’s surreal,” said a similarly cloistered Sen. Angus King (I-Maine.). “The only time I go outside is when I go for a walk, and then when I see someone coming toward me, I go off onto the side of the path.”

Amid the panic over Paul’s diagnosis. Thune came down with a headache he couldn’t shake, which he found unusual given that he is rarely sick. He jumped on a plane and left Capitol Hill amid the final negotiations over the $2.2 trillion rescue package, worried that he would infect his staff or other senators.

“I don’t get down very often. And when I woke up in the middle of the night with a pounding headache and the next morning was all kind of feeling sickly, couldn’t get out of bed, I thought: ‘I’m not going to take any chances,’” Thune recalled.

He later tested negative, and the rest of the Senate seems to have avoided widespread infection. But there is considerable unease among senators about when to return, and many hope that the chamber may be able to operate with a skeleton crew, passing legislation unanimously.

In addition to the day-to-day effects on senators who are used to being surrounded by staff or on the trail campaigning for their seats, there have been rapid shifts in power dynamics. The crisis has elevated legislators in normally sleepy positions, most notably the Senate Small Business Committee, where Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has found himself leading the charge for new aid to businesses.

In the past, some lawmakers have privately sought to escape the committee as their seniority increased. But with small businesses on the verge of collapse amid lockdown orders across the country, the committee suddenly has some of the most sway in Congress.

“I don’t think any of us anticipated that we’d be the front-and-center committee on this,” said Sen. Bern Cardin (D-Md.), the panel’s top Democrat.

That committee’s work is now the subject of a widening partisan dispute, in which Republicans want to immediately replenish the $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program and focus on other needs later, while Democrats say $250 billion more for hospitals and local governments should be included in any small business measure. The impasse is showing no signs of ending.

But at some point, the current logjam will break because it simply has to. Nearly everyone in Congress knows that protracted, weeks-long fights over how to respond to the crisis will not cut it.

“In many respects, what we’ve done has been miraculous,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “We’re rising to the occasion. It’s going to be harder and harder to maintain that status as we disagree on what’s next.”

Andrew Desiderio and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Manchin voted to oust Trump. He could endorse his reelection.

Joe Manchin thinks President Donald Trump abused his power and voted to remove him from office. But he also thinks Trump can still be a “tremendous president” and is eager to reconcile.

The West Virginia Democratic senator surprised his Republican colleagues by denying Trump a bipartisan acquittal last week. But he can’t quit Trump entirely — and is even open to supporting Trump’s re-election campaign.

“I don’t rule anything out. I really don’t rule anything out,” Manchin said in an interview in his office amid a series of attacks from the president. “I’m always going to be for what’s best for my country. Everybody can change. Maybe the president will change, you know? Maybe that uniter will come out, versus the divider.”

While it may defy logic that Manchin could support a president he voted to kick out of office, Manchin sees things differently. Trump did everything he could to defeat Manchin in 2018 and Manchin forgave him a week later. It might take Trump longer to forget Manchin’s vote, but the third-term senator is hopeful as always.

“It’s not different when he wanted to have lunch the week after I was elected. And he said: ‘I knew we couldn’t beat you.’ And I said: ‘it wasn’t for lack of trying.’ Boom, it’s over, let it go. I did. I’m asking him to do the same thing I did,” Manchin said. “He tried to remove me.”

The episode is vintage Manchin — keep everyone guessing and find a way to stay in the mix of the 2020 election, despite the dearth of opportunities to cut deals with Republicans and deploy his back-slapping brand of bipartisanship. Making peace with Trump would also help if he runs in 2024 for yet another term representing West Virginia, one of the strongest Trump states in the country. Manchin isn't ruling that out either and said his vote to remove Trump is “no signal at all about my political career.”

Manchin also plans to hold a series of town halls to explain his impeachment decision to West Virginians.

“I owe it to them. Hell yes, I’m going back home to do town halls,” he said.

Republicans and Trump have tried to recruit Manchin to switch parties several times but have always failed. And they’ve generally been frustrated with Manchin’s record of cooperation on legislation even though he’s the most receptive Democrat to the Trump agenda.

While he’s supported most of Trump’s nominees, including both Supreme Court picks, he opposed the GOP’s tax overhaul and Obamacare repeal and now has voted to convict the president in the impeachment trial.

“Lindsey [Graham] had talked about the fact that we were going to get several Democrats. And Joe was one,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). “He kind of walks this line. There are those in our conference who say he’s always with you except when you need him.”

Trump has lately attacked Manchin as a “Munchkin” and Manchin has criticized Trump for not mounting a defense during the impeachment trial and for his name-calling. Manchin said he hasn’t reached out to the president or the White House yet about putting his trial vote behind him, saying he wanted things to “simmer down” a bit before making that move.

Still, Graham has tried to aid Manchin’s bid to reconnect with Trump. The South Carolina Republican said in an interview he’s spoken to Trump about his attacks on Manchin and argued that the West Virginia moderate is one of Trump’s best shots at getting anything done with Democratic support.

Graham reminded Trump that he and his aides campaigned against Manchin barely more than a year ago and that politics is “a business.”

Trump “doesn’t believe it today. But there will come a time when we need Joe tomorrow,” Graham said. “We still have a lot to do here. Prescription drugs and a lot of things are gonna be right on the cusp of 60 votes.”

Democrats were buoyed by Manchin’s vote to convict. He was clearly the most likely Democratic senator to cross party lines in the trial. And he admitted in the interview that he started off inclined to vote against conviction but found that the burden of evidence made that impossible as the trial went on.

“Joe really struggled,” said Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who had discussed the trial with Manchin and fellow Democratic moderate Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. “Joe did what he felt like was the absolutely right thing to do. And that’s what Joe Manchin does.”

A few days before the final vote, Manchin took to the podium in the Democratic caucus room and relayed how wrenching the impeachment vote had become for him. He’d never stood in that spot before in a closed-door party meeting, and most senators left with the impression that he would acquit Trump.

Yet by the State of the Union address last week, a day before the impeachment vote, Manchin had made his decision. And Trump’s partisan performance didn’t help make the president’s case.

“I saw the State of the Union, and I said: ‘It’s not who we are.’ There’s so many good things that we can do better,” Manchin said.

For so long, Manchin has faced skepticism in Washington for his attempts at triangulation. His vote for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh came just weeks before his 2018 election, and it is widely credited with saving his seat in deep red West Virginia.

Manchin still bristles at the suggestion he voted for Kavanaugh to save his hide. He said the case was not proven that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford. The House impeachment managers’ case against Trump, on the other hand, was proven, Manchin said. And he became more certain by the president’s opposition to hearing from new witnesses.

“Witnesses might have made me to the point where I have doubt. I would have reasonable doubt. Maybe,” Manchin said. “I had no doubt when everything [came] the way it came across.”

Manchin is equally sensitive about efforts to cast him as someone who blindly follows along with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) remarked last week that his vote against Trump showed Schumer had “pulled the noose a little tight” on him.

Manchin texted Capito minutes after her TV hit on Fox News: “I think you know me better than that.” Capito declined to comment on her colleague’s relationship with Trump: “I just don’t want to get in the middle of that. I really don’t.”

Yet if liberals are looking for Manchin to now delight them on a weekly basis, they’ll be disappointed. Manchin has already endorsed Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and is unlikely to do much, at all, against Capito or any other incumbent Republican on the ballot in November.

And he said he still intends to support many of Trump’s conservative judges, provided they are experienced and are deemed qualified by the American Bar Association.

“Do you think the Democrat caucus has been pleased with my votes?” Manchin asked. “I vote 56 percent of the time with the Republicans.”

Yet even as he looks to make nice with Trump, he’s still opposed to many of the president’s policies. Manchin is angry about the Trump-supported lawsuit that would gut the Affordable Care Act and livid about the president’s budget and what it would do to West Virginia.

Moreover, he said he needs to do a full analysis of whether his state is truly better off than it was three years ago and if Trump’s rhetoric matches his results in his state. In the end, he may end up being neutral in 2020, especially depending on whom Democrats nominate. But he’s still keeping his eye on Trump.

“I hope he changes,” Manchin said. “I’m looking for that person that has heart and soul and compassion.”

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Bipartisan group of senators to meet with Ukrainian president

A trio of senators will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky on Friday, just a week after the Senate acquitted President Donald Trump on charges he abused his power by asking Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, a 2020 rival.

Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) will meet with Zelensky in Kyiv, the senators said on Wednesday afternoon.

“The U.S.-Ukraine relationship is as important now as ever. The future of Ukraine matters to the United States and we must make sure Ukraine knows that we view them as a strategic ally,” the senators said in a statement. “This is why we’re going to Kyiv as a bipartisan delegation to reinforce our support with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.”

The move shows an attempt to return to normalcy in the region after the impeachment inquiry upended U.S. relations with a key ally.

Johnson and Murphy traveled together to Ukraine last year to visit Zelensky, and despite their sharp differences over Trump's impeachment have been leading advocates for a bipartisan posture toward Ukraine. Trump was impeached for delaying aid to Ukraine and requesting Zelensky investigate the Bidens for corruption, an effort the House deemed an abuse of power.

In an interview, Murphy said the senators may discuss economic support and security aid.

“One way to make clear that Ukraine is not a political football is for a bipartisan group of senators on opposite sides of the impeachment vote to go see Zelenky and to convey support," Murphy said.

Still, he said he would express to Zelensky his discomfort with Rudy Giuliani, who has continued his efforts to attack the Bidens in Ukraine. Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's son, served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company when Joe Biden was vice president, though there's no evidence of wrongdoing.

“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn't raise the danger of Giuliani’s continued overtures in Ukraine. So I'm sure that we will talk about the need to keep U.S.-Ukraine policy separated in the 2020 election. That’s obviously the issue I raised with him in September,” Murphy said of his conversation with Zelensky last year. “It goes without saying at this point, Zelensky knows which side of the line to stay on."

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Romney escapes Republican retaliation despite Trump attacks

Fresh off a series of scathing attacks from President Donald Trump for his vote to remove the president from office, Mitt Romney spent the day hunting for votes for the president’s agenda.

Life outside the Senate may never be the same for the Utah Republican who became the first senator to vote to remove from office a president of his own party and is sure to endure an unending stream of attacks from Trump and his allies.

But inside the Senate, Romney is resuming life as usual.

At the first closed-door party lunch since the end of the impeachment trial, there wasn’t a single word uttered about Romney’s stunning decision to find Trump “guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust.”

And despite some calls to kick Romney out of the GOP conference and a fusillade of disses from the president himself, Romney was still on the leadership’s whip team and on Tuesday said in a brief interview that he “had my whip card out to whip another piece of legislation.”

In other words, Senate Republicans — including Romney — have already moved on. And there will be no retribution on Trump’s behalf.

“The president’s going to do what he’s going to do. That’s his MO when it comes to politics and that’s not going to change no matter what any of us think or feel,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “But it won’t change [Romney’s] standing in the Senate.”

“Everybody understands that occasions are going to arise invariably where they are going to have to vote their conscience and it’s going to make them an outlier for the conference. I think we all respect that,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Trump has called Romney a “failed presidential candidate” and accused him of using his faith “as a crutch.” On Tuesday, Trump said Romney was a "disgrace" for voting to convict him. Trump has retweeted conspiracy theories about Romney’s ties to Hunter Biden and claimed he hurt “some very good Republican senators.” On Monday, days after being acquitted, Trump couldn’t let it go. During a White House event with governors, Trump told Utah Gov. Gary Herbert: “you keep him, we don't want him.”

Donald Trump Jr. said Romney should be tossed from the GOP conference, which would narrow the GOP’s majority to 52 and ultimately make life harder for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who is up for reelection and is running as a close Trump ally, said he was confronted by a constituent about that idea. Tillis asked the person if they remembered who won the Super Bowl rather than the exact final score — emphasizing that what’s important is that Trump was acquitted not the margin of the victory.

“I disagreed with the vote he took last week but if you go back and look at his body of work on judges, on a lot of other policies we’re moving forward, it’s pretty solid,” Tillis said. “Go back and objectively look at Mitt’s record. He’s been a member in good standing.”

Indeed, Romney this week went back to supporting Trump’s agenda, helping advance several Trump judges and confirm a record-setting 51st Circuit judge on Tuesday.

With those votes and his refusal to respond to Trump’s attacks, Romney made clear that he’s not joining the resistance to Trump’s agenda even if he believes Trump is no longer fit for office. Romney seems to see little utility to engaging in a war of words with the president, a stance that makes it much easier for his colleagues to move on.

“I fully respect that my colleagues voted their conscience. And they respect that I did,” Romney said in the interview. “And I’m honored to be with a group of people that recognize differences but acknowledge that people of character can come to different conclusions.”

At the party lunch on Tuesday, which featured Vice President Mike Pence, there was no discussion of the impeachment trial nor of Romney, said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). Instead, Pence talked about the presidential campaign and the president’s agenda moving forward.

And Republicans who had previously expressed dissatisfaction with Romney dialed their frustration way back.

After Romney initially criticized the conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodoymr Zelensky as “troubling to the extreme,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said Romney had “gone down the same path as the Democrats like Nancy Pelosi” and that Romney “thinks the worst of the president.”

But nearly a week after Romney’s vote to remove the president, Scott essentially shrugged.

“I disagree with it. I’m surprised, but I represent Florida,” Scott said. “He represents Utah. And I don’t know if that’s what they believe or not.”

Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Romney denies Trump unanimous Republican support

Mitt Romney brought a stunning twist to the end of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial: A bipartisan vote to convict the president on charges of abuse of power.

The Wednesday announcement by the Utah Republican made him the only member of the GOP to break with the president and his party on the crucial question of whether Trump deserved to be removed from office. The 2012 Republican nominee said he was left with no other options, regardless of the volcanic reaction instantly delivered by some of the president’s supporters.

"The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a 'high crime and misdemeanor,' Romney said in a dramatic floor speech, in which Romney choked up while discussing how he is guided by his faith.

"Yes, he did," Romney said.

The move denies Trump the unanimous Republican support he had sought and invited an avalanche of attacks from the president and his allies.

Donald Trump Jr. immediately lit into Romney on Twitter: “He’s now officially a member of the resistance & should be expelled from” the party. His niece, GOP chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, said “this is not the first time I have disagreed with Mitt, and I imagine it will not be the last.”

“Wrong, wrong, wrong move,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a diehard defender of the president.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Wednesday that he was "surprised and disappointed" by Romney's vote but that he saw good GOP teamwork on impeachment. Asked about expelling Romney from the Republican conference, McConnell responded: "Sen. Romney has been largely supportive of everything we've been trying to accomplish."

Romney was already somewhat isolated, having voted with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to hear from former national security adviser John Bolton in the trial about Trump’s solicitations of foreign interference in the 2020 election and withholding of Ukraine aid. But now, “it’s going to get very lonely” for him in the Republican Party, he acknowledged in a Fox News interview.

Still, the first-term senator explained that going with the party line would simply not be the right thing to do and quoted a hymn to explain his decision-making: “Do what is right, let the consequence follow.”

“I understand it will be substantial and I have to recognize that it was one or the other. One is to say, I don't want to face the blowback,” Romney said. “But on the other side, there is: Do you do what you know is right?”

At least initially, there was shock but little criticism among the other 52 Senate Republicans who will acquit the president. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said simply of Romney: “This is his hour.”

“He made very clear on the witness vote that he could go his own way,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.). “He listened to everything and he just came to a different conclusion … we all know he’s a very independent person. And obviously we’re going to continue to work with him. There’s always another day and another vote.”

“Mitt was my friend before he made this decision, and he will be my friend after this," said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). “We disagreed on this one, but he’s a colleague and a friend."

Despite Trump Jr.’s call to expel Romney, there were no immediate signs that he would face such retribution. Kicking Romney out of the GOP conference would narrow the Republican majority and make confirming the president’s nominees much more difficult.

"I’m glad Mitt’s a Republican," said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). "I’m disappointed that he’s wrong on this vote and I’m grateful that 52 other Republicans disagree with Mitt. But at the end of the day the president is going to be acquitted and that’s the main thing."

Romney had previously expressed his deep dismay with Trump's bid to push Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, and he reiterated his concerns on the floor.

"The president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust. What he did was not perfect. No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values," Romney said. "Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one's oath of office that I can imagine."

Romney’s relationship with the president, and his party, have become ever more complicated. Romney ripped into Trump during the 2016 campaign, then interviewed for a Cabinet job. By 2019, Romney had entered the Senate as one of Trump’s chief GOP critics, including with an op-ed assailing the president’s character.

After Romney criticized Trump for requesting foreign investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 rival, the president labeled him a “pompous ass.”

Senate Republicans have also occasionally criticized Romney. Just last week Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), who is running in a competitive intraparty contest this fall, said Romney was trying to "appease the left." Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) likened Romney to a potential "Jeff Flake on steroids" last year. Perdue happened to be presiding over the Senate when Romney made his speech announcing his vote to convict the president.

The 2012 GOP presidential nominee said he had received numerous calls and texts urging him to "stand with the team" on impeachment. And he noted that he had voted with Trump 80 percent of the time in the Senate.

"I'm sure to hear abuse from the president and his supporters," he said. "Does anyone seriously believe that I would consent to these consequences other than from an inescapable conviction that my oath before God demanded it of me?"

Romney's vote has already secured a place in the history books. He became the only senator to cross party lines in Trump's trial after all Senate Democrats voted to convict and remove the president on Wednesday afternoon. And in the three presidential impeachment trials that have ever taken place, he's now the only senator to vote to remove a president of his own party from office.

Democrats, especially those close to him, were visibly moved by Romney’s decision. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) went into the Senate chamber on a whim at 2 p.m. Wednesday afternoon: “I just had an instinct that this might be a moment.”

“It's the hardest thing to do in the world to stand up to your party and to your friends and to your donors and to just decide to do what's right. We all wonder whether we would make the same decision if we were in the same position,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who runs a foreign relations subcommittee with Romney. “There’s still honor left in this place.”

Marianne LeVine and James Arkin contributed to this report.

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