Trump steps up war with Senate GOP

Former President Trump is stepping up his war with Senate Republicans by calling for primary challenges next year against GOP incumbents who do not support investigating President Biden's family finances.  

Many Senate Republicans have made clear they don’t want Trump to win their party’s nomination for president, and they’re leery about rallying to his defense given the former president’s polarizing effect on moderate Republican and swing voters. 

Senate GOP aides and strategists argue they can’t do much regarding the Biden family's business dealings because they don’t have the power to issue subpoenas as the Senate’s minority party.  

But GOP senators aren’t giving Trump much rhetorical support either — in sharp contrast from prominent House Republicans such as Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). 

Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist and former Senate leadership aide, said the Trump call will appear to a number of Senate Republicans like a way for Trump to distract people from the investigations into his own activities.

But he suggested it isn’t likely to work.

“A good number of Senate Republicans take a more measured approach usually. They don’t knee-jerk to pressure,” Bonjean said.

Trump appears to be losing patience with Republican lawmakers on the fence about impeaching Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland, as the federal and state felony charges pile up against him along with his mounting legal bills.   

Trump mocked GOP senators and House members who say they have “other priorities” and would prefer to leave the investigations of Hunter Biden and the Biden family's business dealings to the House committees.  

“They sit back and they say, ‘We have other priorities, we have to look at other things.’ Any Republican that doesn’t act on Democrat fraud should be immediately primaried. Get out. Out,” he declared at a Saturday rally in Erie, Pa.  

The comments came a few days after Trump hit Senate Republicans for not taking a more aggressive approach to Biden’s personal finances.  

“With all of these horrible revelations and facts, why hasn’t Republican ‘leadership’ in the Senate spoken up and rebuked Crooked Joe Biden and the Radical Left Democrats, Fascists, and Marxists for their criminal acts against our Country, some of them against me,” he demanded in a post on Truth Social. 

Cool to launching impeachment proceedings

Republican senators are cool to the idea of launching impeachment proceedings against Biden in the House and generally have kept their distance from House GOP threats to cut funding to the Department of Justice and FBI in response to more than 30 felony counts prosecutors have brought against Trump.  

Asked last week whether he saw any merit to an impeachment inquiry into Biden, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said impeachment “ought to be rare rather than common.” 

“I’m not surprised that having been treated the way they were, House Republicans last Congress, [they] begin open up the possibility of doing it again,” he said, referring to the two impeachments of then-President Trump by a Democratic-controlled House.  

“And I think this is not good for the country to have repeated impeachment problems,” McConnell warned.  

It was hardly a ringing endorsement of the House Republican-led investigations into the Biden family and the Department of Justice’s handling of criminal allegations against Hunter Biden.  

Bonjean said “in any impeachment, there would be a trial in the Senate,” which is another reason why Republican senators want to preserve an appearance of impartiality and not rush to judgement about allegations of corruption against the sitting president.  

Republicans up for reelection next year include Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), an outspoken Trump critic, as well as Republicans who have largely stayed quiet about the president, including Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.).

None of these incumbents appear vulnerable, but GOP strategists warn that Trump’s support could result in several of them facing credible primary challenges.  

“They could. Some Senate Republicans could face primary pressure over the next year, but they have a lot of time to position themselves on the matter and see how things unfold,” Bonjean said.  

Trump tried to drum up opposition in the last election cycle to Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).  

He was more successful in stirring up support for Murkowski's Republican challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, but his efforts to recruit a primary challenge to Thune in South Dakota quickly fizzled. 

Senate Republicans believe they have a good chance to win back the Senate majority in 2024 because Democrats will have to defend 23 seats, while they only have to protect 11 GOP-held seats.  

A tough spot

Ross Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University who served several fellowships in the Senate, said Trump’s calls for Republicans to embrace the partisan investigations of Biden’s family puts Republicans facing competitive general-election races next year in a tough spot.  

“These are people who given the political physics of their congressional districts have to play a very exquisite balancing act. The idea that they move to impeach Biden does not play well in those districts,” he said of Republican lawmakers in competitive House districts.  

Baker warned that some Senate Republicans could be in “jeopardy” in primaries next year if Trump decides to launch a full-scale assault against incumbents he views as reluctant allies.  

“Think of people like Roger Wicker, who is someone who is seen as a pretty solid guy who votes the right way but is not an extremist,” Baker said, identifying a senator who might have to watch his right flank. “There are constituencies that will respond to any demand that Trump puts out who will say, ‘I can’t support [a senator] unless he gets on the impeachment bandwagon.’ 

“But I don’t think any Republican who is up for reelection wants to have to do that,” he said.  

Baker said that Senate Republicans up for reelection don’t want to alienate the sizable share of the Republican electorate — which he estimates at about 25 percent of Republican voters — who don’t support Trump and don’t like the idea of GOP candidates embracing his scorched-earth tactics. 

One Senate Republican aide defended the Senate GOP leadership from Trump’s broadsides by pointing out that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a member of McConnell’s leadership team, played a key role in publicizing an FBI 1023 form that makes reference to unsubstantiated allegations that Biden was involved in a foreign bribery scheme.  

“We’re not in the majority, and we don’t have subpoena power. You see Chuck Grassley and [Sen. Ron] Johnson [R-Wis.] pulling the levers on oversight and whistleblowers,” the aide said.  

The form, which FBI investigators use to catalogue raw, unverified claims by informants, received little attention from other Republican senators.  

A second Senate Republican strategist who requested anonymity argued that Grassley has made important contributions to the House investigations of Biden’s, even if Senate Republican leaders have generally kept their distance.  

“I can’t imagine any House Republican would say that the stuff that Grassley has uncovered in his ongoing efforts is less important than what they’re doing. But I think it’s really a matter of, House Republicans are in the majority and have subpoena power and can do a lot more that Republicans in the Senate can,” the aide said.  

Updated at 7:23 a.m. ET.

McConnell’s health puts focus on shadow race to replace him 

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) health scare has Republican senators wondering whether the 81-year-old lawmaker will stay in the top job beyond the 2024 election and who might eventually replace him.  

McConnell plans to serve out his current term as leader and has given every indication that he intends to return as Senate GOP leader in the 119th Congress, which starts in January of 2025 — hopefully from his point of view with Republicans in control of the Senate majority.  

Yet Republican senators privately acknowledge that McConnell appears to be frailer since falling and suffering a concussion on March 9, which resulted in him being hospitalized for several days. The accident required rehabilitation at an inpatient facility and kept him away from the Capitol for more than a month.  

McConnell’s health came back into the spotlight Wednesday when he froze midsentence while delivering his opening remarks at the weekly Republican leadership press conference and had to step away from the podium and return to his office for a few minutes to recover.  

He later insisted that he was “fine” and declined to comment specifically about any health problems he may have, leaving GOP colleagues to speculate about how much longer he will serve as leader and who has the inside track to replace him. 

“I think the leadership race is well underway and this accelerates that,” said a Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss the fallout from McConnell’s health episode before television cameras Wednesday.  

The lawmaker noted that Senate Republican Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) ran the Senate floor this month during the debate and votes on the annual defense authorization bill, with his staff working in close coordination with floor staff to get agreements on amendments and resolve objections.  

“Thune is running the floor, he’s running the [National Defense Authorization Act] negotiations,” the lawmaker said. 

Thune helped get 80 amendments adopted to the defense bill — through the manager's package, roll call votes and voice votes — helping GOP colleagues ring up accomplishments.

The senator said the shadow race to one day replace McConnell has boiled down to Thune, Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), who previously served as Senate GOP whip, and Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.).  

“Cornyn has been very solicitous” about raising money for Republican senators who are up for reelection next year, showcasing his fundraising ability, which has been one of McConnell’s greatest strengths as leader, the senator said.  

Cornyn’s joint fundraising committee, the Cornyn Victory Committee, has raised $4.12 million for Senate GOP incumbents, future Senate GOP nominees and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) through the first six months of this year.  

Cornyn raised a total of $20 million for Senate Republican candidates in the 2022 election cycle, more than any other Republican senator with the exception of McConnell and then-NRSC Chairman Rick Scott (R-Fla.).  

“We hope to exceed that,” Cornyn said of what he plans to do for the 2024 election compared to the $20 million he raised for candidates in the 2022 election cycle. 

“Historically, I used to just raise money for the senatorial committee and let them spend it the way they saw fit, but I found that colleagues appreciate the [direct] help,” he said. “It saves them their wear and tear and a little time so they can hopefully maximize their fundraising elsewhere.” 

McConnell continues to be a major force in fundraising and any successor would have big shoes to fill in that area. 

Two outside groups aligned with McConnell, the Senate Leadership Fund and One Nation, raised a combined $38 million during the first six months of 2023, setting a record for the first half of a nonelection year. 

Republican senators say they view Thune, who is 62, and Cornyn, 71, as the front-runners to become the next Senate GOP leader.  

“I think those will be the two that run for leader when that happens,” said a second Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss the brewing succession battle.

The senator said “Cornyn’s been raising money for people for years” and has built a solid record as a major GOP fundraiser while pointing out it’s Thune’s “job” as whip to be managing the daily developments on the Senate floor.  

“I’m glad that he stepped up” during the floor consideration of the defense bill, the senator said, which came close to derailing because of an ongoing dispute over the Pentagon’s policy of paying for servicemembers to travel to obtain abortions.  

The senator said neither Thune nor Cornyn have said anything about running for McConnell’s job. But their ambitions to move up to the top job are an open secret.  

“The leadership is interesting times,” the senator remarked, noting that Thune and Cornyn “can’t discuss” their plans because it would be “rude” while McConnell is in the job.

Senators say Barrasso, 71, can’t be ruled out of the mix because he plays an important role as GOP conference chairman in pushing messaging strategy and could run as a more conservative alternative to Thune and Cornyn in a three-way race.

Barrasso, for example, voted against this year’s debt limit deal between Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and President Biden, which other members of the Senate GOP leadership supported. 

Former NRSC Chairman Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who is up for reelection next year, hasn’t ruled out another run for Senate Republican leader.  

He challenged McConnell in November in what became an intense and sometimes acrimonious debate over the future of the GOP conference before losing by a vote of 36-10. 

A Senate Republican aide said Cornyn has had to be more aggressive in angling for a future opening for Senate leader because he does not currently hold a position in the elected leadership. He had to step down as whip because of term limits in January of 2019.

“Thune and Cornyn are the two names that have been in the mix the most because they have both been whip, and everybody knows that Cornyn wants the [leader’s] job more than anything,” the aide said.  

Cornyn has held regular lunches and coffees with fellow Republican senators to help maintain his relationships with colleagues.  

He has kept ties with the conservative wing of the GOP conference by regularly attending Monday evening meetings of the Senate Republican Steering Committee. 

Thune and Cornyn have both publicly expressed interest in becoming leader in the future but have also made clear that the job is McConnell’s for as long as he wants it.  

Thune earlier this year waved off a question about running for Senate Republican leader as putting “the cart before the horse.”  

He stepped in to handle some of McConnell’s responsibilities, such as leading the weekly leadership press conference, while McConnell underwent rehabilitation after his fall.

Likewise, Cornyn this week insisted to reporters that he isn’t actively running to become the next leader. 

“There’s no vacancies,” he said. “And those [leadership] elections won’t be until November 2024. So I guess the short answer is there’s nothing to prepare for.”  

Barrasso has only said he would like to continue serving the Senate GOP conference in whatever way is most helpful to his colleagues.  

The Wyoming doctor was in the spotlight himself Wednesday because he came to McConnell’s aid after he froze in the middle of delivering his opening remarks at the press conference.  

Barrasso acknowledged to reporters immediately afterward that he was “concerned” about McConnell’s health since his accident in March but hastened to emphasize “he’s made a remarkable recovery” and is “doing a great job leading our conference.” 

Some Republican senators downplayed the incident, which McConnell’s office attributed to the leader feeling “lightheaded,” as a blip that doesn’t affect his ability to lead the conference.  

“Naturally, anytime it happens I think you’re concerned, but in terms of his capabilities and ability to lead, no, I’m not worried about his ability to lead,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).  

A third Republican senator who requested anonymity, however, said that some GOP senators feel they aren’t getting the full story about McConnell’s health, which is in turn fueling speculation about how much longer he will remain leader. 

“No one says what’s wrong with him,” the senator said. “I think there ought to be more transparency here.”  

Al Weaver contributed.  

--Updated at 8:00 a.m.

The Memo: McConnell and Feinstein’s stumbles raise awkward questions on age

Two high-profile incidents in quick succession involving Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have put the issue of aging politicians front and center.

But the questions raised around mental capacity and fitness for office have no easy answers.

Proposals that might begin to address the issue, such as term limits or cognitive tests beyond a certain age, confront an instant Catch-22. In order to be enacted, they need the support of politicians who might be negatively impacted by them. 

Meanwhile, the people around those politicians have generally no incentive to nudge them to change their minds.

“I think some of what drives these people to stay on forever is a personal power thing that they can’t let go of," progressive strategist Jonathan Tasini said. “The second thing that drives this, though, is the staff. I think what really gets ignored is how the staff cover for people who clearly can’t function, because they themselves don’t want to lose their power.”

This week’s incidents involved two of five current senators who are 80 or older.

First, McConnell appeared to freeze up, for unexplained reasons, while delivering remarks to reporters Wednesday.

The following day, Feinstein seemed confused during a committee roll-call vote. Feinstein started giving general remarks, when all that was required was that she cast her vote. “Just say ‘Aye,’” her colleague, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), could be heard telling Feinstein.

Feinstein, 90, is the oldest sitting senator. McConnell is 81.

There are specific concerns about both senators, separate and apart from the broader issue of elected officials seeking to remain in office in their ninth decade.

McConnell suffered a concussion earlier this year in a fall at a Washington hotel — an incident in which he also suffered a broken rib. The accident kept McConnell away from the Senate of almost six weeks while he recuperated.

In the wake of Wednesday’s incident, it has also been reported by multiple outlets that McConnell suffered two other falls this year — one in Helsinki, and one at Washington’s Ronald Reagan National Airport.

Medical professionals have speculated as to whether what happened Wednesday may have been a seizure or mini-stroke.

The majority leader himself has professed to be “fine.” His staff have said of the incident that he felt “lightheaded.”

The Feinstein incident was, in some ways, more worrisome, given that concerns have been raised about her cognitive abilities for some time.

In late 2020, she asked the same question twice in succession, apparently unaware she was repeating herself, in a hearing with then-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Last year, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that four senators, including three Democrats, had told its reporters about their worries regarding Feinstein. One congressional Democrat representing California anonymously described a meeting at which he or she had to reintroduce themselves to Feinstein repeatedly.

Feinstein, who is retiring at the next election, has defended her own capabilities. Her staff has said she was “preoccupied” during Thursday’s roll call vote. 

Other allies have suggested there is an element of sexism in the apparent desire to push Feinstein out. They note examples of past male senators, including Sens. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), whose capacities were widely believed to be diminished late in life but who did not face the same public pressure to step down.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), 83, was one of Feinstein’s most vigorous defenders in that regard. Pelosi announced she was stepping down as the leader of House Democrats last year, having spent 20 years atop her conference.

But the McConnell and Feinstein episodes are also important because of the way in which they illuminate a larger picture.

President Biden is 80 and prone to slips-ups, as when he recently twice referred to the war in "Iraq” when he clearly meant “Ukraine.”

Former President Trump is 77 and, while rarely hesitant in the Biden fashion, he often launches into bizarre asides during his long campaign speeches.

It’s not as if the issue of aging politicians is off-limits. GOP presidential contender Nikki Haley has proposed mandatory cognitive tests for office-holders 75 and older.

Her proposal was seen more as a shot across the bow of Biden and Trump specifically rather than an idea that had any real chance of being enacted. Haley, 51, talks often on the campaign trail about the need for “new generational leaders.”

Talk also bubbles up intermittently about term limits for senators and House members.

Term limits face the philosophical question of whether voters should be denied the chance to reelect who they wish for as long as they wish — presidency excepted. There is also the practical difficulty that politicians are not eager to vote to, in effect, abbreviate their own careers.

“The fact is, politicians — like pretty much everyone else — are living to older ages, and some people stay physically and mentally sharp and other people deteriorate somewhat,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University professor emeritus who specialized in political communications.

“The question is, should it be up to the voters or up to the doctors to decide when someone should be out of office.”

There is also the question of how any restriction on age or mental abilities would be codified or enforced. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is 81, and even his most staunch ideological opponents don’t seriously question his mental capacity.

For the moment, it seems most likely that the issue of aging politicians will remain a conundrum without an obvious solution.

“It’s not that you reach 75 and you should be gone,” said Tasini.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

Scary moment for McConnell raises questions for GOP

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is helped by Senators and staff after McConnell unexpectedly pauses while speaking to reporters after the weekly policy luncheon on Wednesday, July 26, 2023. (Greg Nash)

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) froze in front of television cameras for about 20 seconds Wednesday as he battled a bout of lightheadedness that forced him to walk away briefly from a press conference.

The scary moment, which prompted members of his leadership team to suggest that he take a rest, raises new questions about the 81-year-old Republican leader’s future.  

“Are you good, Mitch?” asked Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairwoman Joni Ernst (Iowa), putting her hand on the back of his arm.  

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.), who is a doctor, ushered McConnell away from the podium after the leader was unable to get more than a couple of sentences into his opening statement.  

“Let’s go back to your office,” Barrasso suggested. “Do you want to say anything else to the press? Let’s go back.”  

Barrasso later revealed that he walked “down the hall” with McConnell toward his office after they both walked away from the podium and that the leader didn’t say anything to him to indicate distress.  

An aide to McConnell later said, “He felt lightheaded and stepped away for a moment.” The aide pointed out that McConnell “was sharp” in answering reporters’ questions after he returned to the event.  

McConnell’s term runs through the end of 2026, and he previously said that he expects to stay on as leader.  

Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) told reporters after the troubling moment in front of the cameras that McConnell should stay in his leadership role.  

“And hopefully he gets a good rest over the [August] break,” she said. 

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McConnell has helped recruit top-flight Republican candidates in West Virginia and Montana to maximize the chances of reclaiming his old title of Senate majority leader in January 2025.  

And two outside fundraising groups aligned with McConnell, the Senate Leadership Fund and One Nation, this week reported record-breaking fundraising hauls over the first six months of a nonelection year.  

The groups raised a combined $38 million, with the Senate Leadership Fund collecting $10.1 million and One Nation bringing in $28.2 million. 

But Senate Republican colleagues say McConnell seems to be still suffering the effects of a nasty spill he took in early March, which sent him to the hospital with a concussion and led to weeks of rehabilitation.  

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One Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss McConnell’s health observed that the GOP leader has been more reticent at Republican lunch meetings. The lawmaker speculated that McConnell may be having troubling hearing the conversations at the lunch, just as he sometimes has trouble hearing reporters’ questions at press conferences. 

A second Republican senator said McConnell does not appear fully recovered from his fall. 

“I love Mitch McConnell, he is one of the most strategic political thinkers that we have. I have such admiration and respect for him but I do fear that — you can call it low energy — he is not himself,” the lawmaker said. 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who is the oldest member of the Senate GOP conference at age 89, said he planned to call McConnell’s office to check up on his health.  

“If I want to know what went wrong, yes,” he said.  

FILE - Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, testifies during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, in Washington. A U.S. Senate committee has accused the embattled Swiss bank Credit Suisse of limiting the scope of an internal probe into Nazi clients and Nazi-linked accounts. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

McConnell waved aside questions about his health when he returned to the podium Wednesday afternoon. 

Asked at Wednesday’s press conference why he was unable to complete his statement and whether it was related to the concussion, McConnell responded: “No, I’m fine.”  

“You’re fine, you’re fully able to do your job?” the reporter pressed. 

“Yeah,” McConnell answered.  

McConnell returned to the press conference in time to take the first question from reporters, as he usually does after the weekly Senate Republican policy lunch.  

He made a point of staying at the podium longer than usual to answer questions and appeared calm and confident while providing detailed answers.  

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) addresses reporters after the weekly policy luncheon on Wednesday, July 26, 2023. (Greg Nash)

When a reporter asked Wednesday if he had “anybody in mind” to replace him when he’s “no longer” the Republican leader, McConnell smiled and walked back to his office while members of his leadership team laughed it off.  

Republican senators and aides predict that if McConnell steps down from his leadership job, there would be a three-way race among Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.), Barrasso and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the former Senate GOP whip and a current adviser to the Senate GOP leadership team, to replace him.  

Thune and Cornyn, who have both expressed interest in becoming the Senate GOP leader sometime in the future, say the job belongs to McConnell as long as he wants it.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the former chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee who challenged McConnell unsuccessfully in November, hasn’t ruled out making another run for Senate Republican leader.

McConnell defeated Scott 37-10 in an acrimonious race in which both candidates traded blame for the disappointing results of the 2022 midterm election. 

Barrasso said after the press conference that he was “concerned” about McConnell’s health but pointed out that he led the lunch meeting earlier in the day and appeared in good shape while answering questions from the press.  

“I was concerned since … he was injured a number of months ago, and I continue to be concerned,” he told a crowd of reporters who pressed him for details about McConnell’s condition.

“I was concerned when he fell and hit his head a number of months ago and was hospitalized, and I think he’s made a remarkable recovery. He’s doing a great job leading our conference and was able to answer every question that the press asked today,” he said.  

Barrasso said McConnell didn’t show any signs of impairment at the conference lunch meeting. 

“He spoke at lunch, carried on, led the discussion. Everything was fine,” he said.  

Al Weaver contributed.

Senate Republicans see Biden impeachment as fraught with risk

Senate Republicans see impeaching President Biden ahead of the 2024 election as a risky political strategy that could turn off moderate voters and are hoping to wave their House GOP colleagues off from marching down that road.

GOP senators say the party is better off focused on how to improve Americans’ lives in the future instead of fighting messy battles to settle past political scores. 

“Staying focused on the future and not the past is in my view the best way to change the direction of the country and that’s to win an election,” Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) told reporters Tuesday.  

Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairwoman Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said Tuesday she would prefer to focus on national security policy, which the Senate is debating this week as it wraps up work on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  

“I’m really focused on NDAA right now. I really want to see it get done and I want a bipartisan deal between the House and the Senate. I think that’s what we’re focused on,” Ernst told reporters. “We need to get our [appropriations] bills done, too. So, that’s what we’re going to focus on in the Senate.” 

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday strongly signaled to reporters that the House could move forward with an impeachment inquiry.

“How do you get to the bottom of the truth? The only way Congress can do that is go to an impeachment inquiry,” McCarthy told reporters Tuesday. “What an impeachment inquiry does, it gives us the apex of the power of Congress for Republicans and Democrats to gather the information that they need.”

However, McCarthy later said no decision had been made, raising doubts about whether he’d move forward with the step.

“I wasn’t announcing it,” he said. “I simply say … that the actions that I'm seeing by this administration, with holding the agencies from being able to work with us — that would rise to the level of an impeachment inquiry. We … still have a number of investigations going forward.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) declined to comment on McCarthy's impeachment push when asked about it on his way to the Senate floor. 

Senate Republicans have generally kept their distance from the House Republican-led investigations into the Biden family’s business dealings and earlier this summer dismissed what they saw as a hastily filed motion by Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) to impeach Biden for lacking evidence and due process.  

“I know people are angry. I’m angry at the Biden administration for their policies at the border and a whole host of other things, but I think we also need to look at what’s achievable,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said last month in response to Boebert’s impeachment resolution.  

“And with a Democratic majority in the Senate, I don’t think that’s achievable,” he warned.  

Cornyn on Tuesday remarked that the House standards for impeaching a president have dropped in recent years. 

House Democrats impeached former President Trump in December of 2019 and then again in January of 2021.

He told reporters that impeaching presidents is getting to be "a habit around here," and that's not a good thing.

“Unfortunately, what goes around, comes around,” he said. 

Remembering when it backfired 

Senate Republicans remember the last time a Republican-controlled House impeached a Democratic president in the fall of 1998, it backfired on their party in that year’s midterm election.   

Democrats picked up five House seats that year, marking the first time in 64 years the president’s party didn’t lose any seats in Congress during a midterm election.   

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who voted twice to convict Trump on impeachment charges during two separate Senate trials, said it’s not unusual for lawmakers to launch baseless attacks against a major party’s nominee for president, as happened to him in 2012.   

Romney said Biden should open up about his family’s business dealings to reassure the public.  

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“There are all sorts of accusations and allegations. I had something of that nature launched against me when I was running for president. I found the best way to respond was full disclosure and transparency. My guess is that’s the way to make it go away,” he said. “I’ll expect to see that from the Biden team.   

Romney reminded his House colleagues that the “bar” for impeachment is “high crimes and misdemeanors.”  

“That hasn’t been alleged at this stage, but we’ll see what develops. I certainly hope that that’s not going to confront us again,” he said.   

Cornyn warned Tuesday that further lowering the bar for impeachment will set a precedent for future Congresses.   

“Once a precedent is established around here, you can pretty well guarantee people will cite that as justification or lower the bar further. I don’t think it’s a healthy thing,” he said.   

Even so, Cornyn acknowledged that House investigators have uncovered some troubling evidence shedding light on Hunter Biden’s business dealings.  

“I’m very disturbed by some of the revelations in the House about the Biden family business,” he said.   

Not eager for battle 

GOP senators are not eager to get drawn into a protracted battle with Democrats over an impeachment trial that may wind up dividing their conference if House investigators fail to come up with compelling evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors, the standard set by the Constitution.  

Investigations by the House Oversight, Judiciary and Ways and Means Committees into Hunter Biden’s business dealings and whether he received favorable treatment from the Department of Justice have failed to gain much public traction, or even support from Senate Republicans on the other side of the Capitol.  

Trump on Monday vented his frustration with Senate Republicans for not showing much interest in pursuing Biden.  

“Why hasn’t Republican ‘leadership’ in the Senate spoken up and rebuked Crooked Joe Biden and the Radical Left Democrats, Fascists, and Marxists for their criminal acts against our Country, some of them against me. How long does America have to wait for the Senate to ACT?” Trump demanded in a post to his social media site, Truth Social. 

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Steve Daines (Mont.) told reporters Tuesday that it’s the job of the House, not the Senate, to investigate Biden.  

“It will be up to the House to determine what the facts lead them to vote on in the future. That’s their job,” he said.  

Some Republican senators, however, argued Tuesday that House Republicans are justified in moving forward with an impeachment inquiry. 

“Considering what the House Oversight Committee is unearthing — we can’t help that the FBI didn’t do their job for five years — now they’re finding all this information out. They’re still digging and appropriately so,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who asserted that House investigators have found “pretty strong evidence of serious crimes.” 

“Whether we like it or not, we may have to deal with it,” he said. “I think the Speaker is doing what he needs to do and what’s appropriate to do, quite honestly.” 

Asked about his Senate Republican colleagues’ reluctance to wade into another impeachment fight, Cramer said: “I’m not eager to get on an airplane every Monday morning.” 

“We don’t do this for our own convenience, we do this because we pledge an oath and we have a president who clearly has over the years been running a really awful family crime syndicate,” he said. “We’ve got to look into it.” 

He said when Democrats controlled the House during the Trump administration, “We impeached the president twice with no evidence in the kangaroo court.” 

Trump anxiety among GOP senators grows as indictments appear to help him

Republican senators who don’t want to see former President Trump as their party's nominee are feeling increasingly anxious that special counsel Jack Smith is actually helping Trump's presidential campaign through his dogged pursuit of the former president. 

They fear that another round of federal charges against Trump will only further boost his fundraising and poll numbers, solidifying his possession as the dominant front-runner in the 2024 Republican presidential primary field.  

And they worry that Smith’s effect on the Republican presidential primary is being magnified by prominent House Republicans and conservative media personalities who have rallied behind Trump, effectively blotting out the rest of the GOP presidential field.  

“They wish he would go away,” said a Republican senator, who requested anonymity to comment on private conversation, of fellow GOP senators’ concerns that Smith is helping propel Trump to victory.  

“They wish they would both go away,” the senator added, referring to Smith and Trump.  

The senator said constituents are calling on colleagues to “stand by Trump,” essentially turning the GOP presidential primary into a referendum on the former president and his battles with the Biden Justice Department. 

The senator said Smith is “absolutely” the best thing going for Trump’s presidential campaign.

Trump had a 15-point lead over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in national polls March 30, when news of the former president’s first indictment in New York on 34 felony counts related to a hush money scheme became public.  

Since then, his lead over DeSantis, his closest rival, has grown to 33 points, according to an average of recent national polls.  

A second Republican senator said the Department of Justice will further boost Trump if it brings new charges related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and stop Congress from certifying President Biden’s victory Jan. 6, 2021.  

Trump already faces 37 counts in a federal indictment related to the classified documents found at his Florida residence.

“The things that one would have thought were disqualifying can be enhancing, can be improving your standing,” said the GOP senator, who also requested anonymity to comment on how Trump’s legal battles are energizing Republican voters to embrace his campaign.  

“I should explain to my constituents who complain that the Democrats are out to ambush Trump: ‘No, they want him to be Republican nominee because he is the one who would lose,’” the senator added.  

The senator said a new federal indictment against Trump “creates increased enthusiasm among his supporters and probably brings other voters along who see this as a rotten system.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who hasn’t yet endorsed any presidential candidate, said Trump is getting “stronger” because of the two indictments and the potential for additional charges from the Justice Department and the Fulton County (Ga.) district attorney.  

“I think he’s getting stronger,” he said, adding, “The primary gets less and less [competitive].” 

Paul speculated that the Biden administration and its allies may be focusing prosecutorial firepower on Trump to boost him in the primary, because Democratic strategists believe Biden has a good chance of beating him again in a general election.  

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“Maybe that’s their strategy. Maybe their strategy is: 'Let’s keep indicting him. We’ll build him up because he’s the one candidate who won’t have appeal to independents.’ And that might be true,” Paul said.  

The Kentucky senator said even Republicans who aren’t Trump fans feel angry and exasperated by the severity of the charges brought against him.

“More and more Republicans, even ones who have disagreements with him, are like: ‘Really, you’re going to indict him for trying to overturn the election?’” he said.  

Paul said he thought the strategy of Trump allies trying to push alternate slates of Electoral College electors in the weeks after the 2020 election was “a stupid strategy.” 

“I voted against it. I said at the time it was a dumb strategy. So I’m against that policy, but never in my right mind would I think that it’s a crime for [Trump] to say, ‘Let’s have an alternate set of electors,’” he said.  

Senate Republican Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), who has endorsed Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) in the 2024 presidential election and has repeatedly warned that Trump is a turnoff to swing voters, said the Department of Justice has only boosted Trump’s fundraising and standing in the polls.

“That seems to have happened so far,” he said. “He seems to have benefited every time that the Justice Department goes after him. 

“I’m hoping that the dynamic changes in a way that Tim Scott starts to break out,” Thune said.  

Trump’s campaign last week sent out a fundraising email to supporters within 24 hours of receiving a letter from Smith informing him that he is the target of a grand jury investigation related to the events of Jan. 6.  

He asked his subscribers to “make a contribution to show that you will NEVER SURRENDER our country to tyranny as the DEEP State thugs try to JAIL me for life.”  

Trump raised $35 million in the second quarter of this year, during which time he pleaded not guilty in separate criminal cases in Manhattan and the Southern District of Florida.  

DeSantis reported raising $20 million in the second quarter. 

Trump has repeatedly bashed Smith to rev up his core supporters.  

He shot off a fundraising email immediately after learning that he had been indicted in early June for violating the Espionage Act and conspiring to obstruct justice because of his handling of classified documents after leaving office.  

“We are watching our Republic DIE before our very eyes. The Biden-appointed Special Counsel has INDICTED me in yet another witch hunt regarding documents that I had the RIGHT to declassify as President of the United States,” he wrote June 8. 

Trump’s strategy of villainizing Smith and the Department of Justice has proven especially effective with small-dollar donors; his campaign reported collecting $6.6 million within days of Smith announcing his first round of charges.  

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who voted twice to convict Trump of impeachment charges and wants his party to move away from the former president, said: “In the past, an indictment would be terminal for a candidate.” 

“Donald Trump has proven that’s not the case. He was right: He could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and it wouldn’t make a difference,” he said.  

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who doesn’t think Trump can win a general election matchup against Biden, said the indictments have rallied Republican voters behind Trump "so far."

“But he hasn’t had a trial yet," he said. "That could change things."  

McConnell declines to say whether Trump should be charged criminally for Jan. 6 

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who condemned former President Trump two years ago for inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, declined Wednesday to say whether Trump should now be criminally charged for those actions

McConnell, asked about a possible indictment of Trump, stated that he does not plan to “critique” GOP candidates for president.  

“I’ve said every week out here that I’m not going to comment on the various candidates for the presidency. How I felt about that I expressed at the time, but I’m not going to start getting into sort of critiquing the various candidates for president,” McConnell told reporters when asked whether it would be legitimate for the Justice Department to charge Trump in connection with efforts to stop Congress’s certification of President Biden’s 2020 election victory.  

Minority Leader Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) addresses reporters after the weekly policy luncheon on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. (Greg Nash)

Trump announced Tuesday that special counsel Jack Smith had informed him in a letter that he is the target of a grand jury investigation related to Jan. 6. 

The target letter cites three statutes that Trump may be charged under, including the deprivation of rights, conspiracy to commit an offense against or defraud the United States and tampering with a witness, according to news outlets.  

McConnell excoriated Trump on the Senate floor in February 2021 at the conclusion of his second impeachment trial for provoking a mob of supporters to march to the U.S. Capitol and overrun its security to stop the certification of the 2020 election.  

“There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day. The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president,” McConnell said.  

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More than 1,060 people have been charged by federal prosecutors because of their actions that day, and more than 600 people have pleaded guilty, according to a database compiled by National Public Radio.  

More than 80 people have been convicted on all charges, while only two people have been acquitted on all charges. 

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Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said Tuesday that being “practically and morally responsible” didn’t necessarily warrant criminal charges and that prosecutors would have to hew closely to the law and facts of the case.  

“Practically and morally is something very different than legally, and I think that’s what the Justice Department has to look at. They’ve got to look at the law, the facts as they’ve interviewed people, and then make a determination about whether laws were broken,” he said.    

GOP senators hold back on defending Trump as he faces new indictment 

The revelation that former President Trump faces a possible grand jury indictment connected to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack and his efforts to hold on to power has landed like a bombshell on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers saw firsthand the violence unleashed that day. 

Some GOP lawmakers rushed to Trump’s defense, but many Republicans in the Senate held back from defending the former president, who has been accused of stoking the Jan. 6 mob and who waited before calling on protesters to disperse.  

The expected indictment separately poses a tough political problem for many Republicans critical of Trump, who remains wildly popular with the party’s base. 

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who hasn’t spoken to Trump since December 2020, stayed quiet about the news of yet another indictment against his onetime ally, who is now leading the Republican presidential primary field by 30 points in national polls.  

Minority Leader Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) addresses reporters after the weekly policy luncheon on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. (Greg Nash)

His top deputies, Senate Republican Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), reacted with caution.

Asked whether it would be “legitimate” for special counsel Jack Smith to charge Trump for trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election, Thune said it would depend on the facts and evidence presented.  

“That’s going to depend on whether or not laws were broken," he said. "So clearly, I don’t know what they’re looking at. But I’m sure we’ll know in due time.” 

Cornyn dodged the politically charged topic altogether, arguing the Justice Department has the authority to investigate whether Trump broke the laws in trying to stop the certification of the 2020 election. 

“I think that’s entirely within the purview of the Department of Justice and has nothing to do with the United States Senate,” he said.  

Asked if Smith is a “credible prosecutor,” he said, “I have no knowledge of anything approaching that.” 

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who called the indictment of Trump last month for violating the Espionage Act “political” and “rotten,” was the only senior member of the Republican leadership to accuse the Justice Department of acting on political motives.  

“It looks like the president is targeting his most popular opponent. Isn't that interesting? Sounds political to me,” he said.  

Asked if he saw any qualitative difference between the 37 felony counts federal prosecutors brought against Trump last month for refusing to turn over classified documents he kept improperly at Mar-a-Lago and new charges related to Jan. 6, Barrasso saw both indictments as political attacks.  

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“The administration is siccing its dogs on the former president of the United States and their most formidable opponent,” he said.  

Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) only said, “It’s a never-ending story, that’s my comment.”  

The generally muted response from Senate Republican leaders posed a stark contrast with House Republican leaders, who rushed to Trump’s defense.  

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) suggested the Justice Department is bringing new charges against Trump because he is leading the Republican presidential field by double digits and pulled ahead of President Biden in a recent poll.  

“Recently, President Trump went up in the polls and was actually surpassing President Biden for reelection. So what do they do now? Weaponize government to go after their No. 1 opponent,” McCarthy said Tuesday. 

“This is not equal justice. They treat people differently and they go after their adversaries,” he said. 

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks to reporters during a media availability in Statuary Hall of the Capitol on Wednesday, July 19, 2023.

McCarthy’s comments reveal how his views of Trump’s culpability for the attack on the Capitol have evolved since January 2021, when he told GOP colleagues that Trump “bears responsibility for his words and actions ­— no if, ands or buts.” 

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) accused the Justice Department of waging a politically motivated prosecution to distract from a whistleblower’s claims that senior administration officials interfered with an Internal Revenue Service investigation of Hunter Biden.

“Now you see the Biden administration going after President Trump once again, and it begs that question, ‘Is there a double standard? Is justice being administered equally?’” Scalise asked at a press conference.  

Other Trump allies in the House joined the attack against the administration.  

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) claimed Biden’s Justice Department did little to prosecute Black Lives Matter protesters who breached a federal courthouse in 2020 or to prosecute threats against conservative Supreme Court justices. 

“But if you’re President Trump and do nothing wrong? PROSECUTE. Americans are tired of the double standard!” he tweeted.  

Another Trump ally, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), attacked Smith on Twitter as a “lousy attorney” and pointed to the Supreme Court overturning his conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). 

“He only targets Republicans because he’s a weak little bitch for the Democrats,” she tweeted. 

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) asks a question during a hearing on Wednesday, June 21, 2023 to discuss the report from Special Counsel John Durham about the “Crossfire Hurricane” probe into allegations of contacts between Russia and former President Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Senate Republicans, many of whom have made clear they don’t want to see Trump as the party’s nominee for president in 2024, however, broke with their House GOP colleagues over the claim that the Justice Department is operating a “two-tier” system and holding Trump to a special standard. 

“I think you’ve got to go where the facts lead you and determine whether or not laws are broken. But there shouldn’t be two systems of justice; everybody should be held accountable and there ought to be equal justice under the law,” Thune told reporters. 

“Clearly in these circumstances, it’s a politically charged environment. I think it puts an even higher burden of proof on the Justice Department given the perceptions that people have about that but this has got to be driven by the law and the facts,” he said.  

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) addresses reporters after the weekly policy luncheon on Wednesday, July 19, 2023.

McConnell excoriated Trump on the Senate floor at the end of his 2021 impeachment trial for inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol hallways and ransacked the Senate parliamentarian’s office. 

“There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day,” he declared, referring to the violence and chaos that resulted in injuries to more than 100 Capitol police officers.  

One officer, Brian Sicknick, died of natural causes while defending the Capitol.  

Thune said just because the Senate Republicans’ top leader called Trump “practically and morally” responsible, that did not necessarily warrant criminal charges.  

“Practically and morally is something very different than legally, and I think that’s what the Justice Department has to look at. They’ve got to look at the law, the facts as they’ve interviewed people, and then make a determination about whether laws were broken,” he said.   

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Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who voted twice to convict Trump on impeachment charges — including on the charge of inciting the Jan. 6 riot — warned his House GOP colleagues about relentlessly attacking the Justice Department.

He voiced concern about "the diminution of institutions in which we rely as a society." 

"A democracy works when we have confidence in the justice system, in the legal system, in our prosecutors and so forth. If we constantly attack and diminish them, that weakens the democracy," he said. 

GOP senators rattled by radical conservative populism

Republican senators say they’re worried that conservative populism, though always a part of the GOP, is beginning to take over the party, becoming more radical and threatening to cause them significant political problems heading into the 2024 election.  

GOP senators are saying they’re being increasingly confronted by constituents who buy into discredited conspiracy theories such as the claim that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election or that federal agents incited the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.  

Growing distrust with government institutions, from the FBI, CIA and Department of Justice to the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health, make it more difficult for Republican lawmakers to govern. 

Republican senators believe their party has a good chance to take back control of the White House and Senate, given President Biden’s low approval ratings and the favorable map of Senate seats up for reelection, but they regularly face political headaches caused by populist members of their party who say the rest of the GOP is out of step with mainstream America. 

“We should be concerned about this as Republicans. I’m having more ‘rational Republicans’ coming up to me and saying, ‘I just don’t know how long I can stay in this party,’” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). “Now our party is becoming known as a group of kind of extremist, populist over-the-top [people] where no one is taking us seriously anymore. 

FILE - Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, asks a question during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib, File)

“You have people who felt some allegiance to the party that are now really questioning, ‘Why am I [in the party?]” she added. “I think it’s going to get even more interesting as we move closer to the elections and we start going through some of these primary debates. 

“Is it going to be a situation of who can be more outlandish than the other?” she asked.  

Some Senate Republicans worry the populist winds are downgrading their chances of picking up seats in 2024.

“There are an astonishing number of people in my state who believe the election was stolen,” said one Republican senator who requested anonymity to talk about the growing popularity of conservative conspiracy theories at home.  

As an example, some Republicans point to Arizona, where Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), an independent who left the Democratic Party last year, is up for reelection.

Sinema is likely to face a challenge from the left in the likely Democratic nominee Rep. Ruben Gallego (Ariz.) as well as a GOP nominee. If that nominee is former TV anchor Kari Lake, who has embraced conspiracy theories about elections and lost a gubernatorial race last year, many in the GOP think they’re in trouble.

One senior Senate Republican strategist, assessing the race, lamented that “the Republican Party in Arizona is a mess.” 

Republican senators say they are alarmed at how many Republicans, including those with higher levels of education and income, buy the unsubstantiated claims that the last presidential election was stolen.  

A second Republican senator who spoke with The Hill said the growing strength of radical populism “makes it a lot more difficult to govern, it makes it difficult to talk to constituents.” 

“There are people who surprise me — I’m surprised they have those views. It’s amazing to me the number of people, the kind of people who think the election was stolen,” the lawmaker said. “I don’t want to use this word but it’s not just a ‘red-neck’ thing. It’s people in business, the president of a bank, a doctor.”  

The lawmaker, who requested anonymity to discuss the political challenge posted by surging conservative populism, accused some fellow Republicans of trying to exploit voter discontent to gain local or national prominence.  

“In my state there are a lot of folks who see Washington as disconnected, they see their way of life threatened. There’s something that generates discontent that elected officials take advantage of,” the senator said.  

Tuberville’s controversies

Some of the biggest populist-linked headaches recently have come from Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R), a staunch ally of former President Trump who is now holding up more than 260 nonpolitical military promotions to protest the Defense Department’s abortion policy.  

Tuberville caused an uproar early last week by defending the idea of letting white nationalists serve in the military and disputing the idea that white nationalism is an inherently racist ideology.  

Tuberville later reversed himself after Senate Republican colleagues ranging from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) forcefully denounced white supremacy and white nationalism.  

GOP senators also have to regularly distance themselves from the radical proposals of populist conservatives in the House, such as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who earlier this year proposed cutting Department of Justice and FBI funding in response to federal investigations of Trump.   

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Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) pushed back on calls to defund the Justice Department, telling reporters: “Are we going to get rid of the Justice Department? No. I think defunding is a really bad idea.” 

Thune later explained to The Hill: “There are seasons, swings back and forth in politics and we’re in one now where the dominant political thinking is more populist with respect to national security, foreign policy, some domestic issues.” 

But he said “that stuff comes and goes and it’s built around personalities,” alluding to the broadly held view that Trump’s election to the presidency in 2016 and his lasting influence over the party has put his brand of populism at the forefront.  

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an advisor to the Senate Republican leadership, said bread-and-butter conservative economic ideas still resonated with voters, but he acknowledged “the cable news shows” continue to keep attention on themes that Trump likes to emphasize, such as election fraud and the “deep-state” control of the federal government.  

“So there are some people paying attention to that but most people are trying to just get on with their lives,” he said. “There’s a lot of distrust of Washington, and who can blame people.” 

“It concerns me that people lose faith in their institutions, but this has been a long story throughout our history. It’s nothing new although it’s troubling,” he said. 

Waving off impeachment

Senate Republicans tried to wave off their House colleagues from advancing articles of impeachment authored by Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) against President Biden and rolled their eyes at Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) attempt to expunge Trump’s impeachment record.  

Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) warned, “I fear that snap impeachments will become the norm, and they mustn't.” 

Asked about efforts to erase Trump’s impeachment record, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) quoted the popular show “Succession”: “Logan Roy made a good point. These are not serious people.”

Romney, who was the GOP nominee for president in 2012 before Trump took over the party four years later, last year called Greene and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) “morons” for speaking at a white nationalist event in Florida. 

Asked this week about Tuberville’s defense of white nationalism and how it reflected on the GOP, Romney said: “Our party has lots of problems, add that to the list.”  

The party of Reagan has transformed into the party of Trump, and to the dismay of some veteran Republican lawmakers, it doesn’t look like it’s going back to what it was anytime soon.  

One ascendent young conservative leader, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who supported objecting to certifying Biden’s victory on Jan. 6, 2021, thinks the Republican Party’s embrace of populism is more than a passing fad.  

He says the new era of politics is more than a battle between Trump allies and Trump haters, or even between Republicans and Democrats. 

Speaking at the National Conservatism Conference two years ago, he declared: “We have been governed by a political consensus forged by a political class that has lost touch with what binds us together as Americans. And it has lost sight of the basic requirements of liberty.” 

“The great divide of our time is not between Trump supporters and Trump opponents, or between suburban voters and rural ones, or between Red America and Blue America,” he said. “No, the great divide of our time is between the political agenda of the leadership elite and the great and broad middle of our society. And to answer the discontent of our time, we must end that divide.”  

Senate, House Republicans on collision course over defense spending 

Senate Republicans are looking for a way to get around the caps on defense spending set by the debt limit deal that President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) negotiated last month, putting them on a collision course with House Republicans.

Republican defense hawks on the Senate Appropriations Committee vented their frustration with the allocations for the Defense Department set by Senate Democrats and House Republicans, which represents an increase of more than 3 percent over current spending levels. 

“If you’re looking at China’s navy and you think now’s the time to shrink our Navy, you sure as hell shouldn’t be in the Navy. We go from 298 ships under this budget deal to eventually 291. ... You sunk the Navy. The Congress has sunk eight ships. How many fighter squadrons have we parked because of this deal?” fumed Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) at a committee hearing Thursday morning. 

“GDP to defense spending is going to be at a historic low under this deal,” he said, arguing that the defense spending cap will also hurt Ukraine in its war against Russia. “There’s not a penny in this deal to help them keep fighting. Do you really want to be judged in history as having, at a moment of consequence to defeat Putin, to pull all the money for Ukraine?” 

Graham suggested Thursday afternoon that Senate Republicans may attempt to renegotiate the defense spending cap set by the debt limit law later this year. 

“There will be conversation among senators and hopefully the House to increase our spending to deter China. Reducing the size of the U.S. Navy doesn’t deter China,” he said. 

Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), the top-ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said she was concerned that "the new debt limit law caps regular defense funding in fiscal year 2024 at the inadequate level requested by the president" and that it "fails to meet the security challenges facing our nation.”

House Republicans have proposed $826 billion for the annual defense appropriations bill, while Senate Democrats have proposed $823 billion for the defense spending bill, keeping in line with the spending caps McCarthy negotiated with Biden.  

Those numbers don’t include defense spending spread across other departments, including the Department of Energy, which oversees the nation’s nuclear arsenal; the Department of Homeland Security; and money allocated for military construction and veterans affairs. 

Graham and Collins are hoping to increase defense spending levels later in the year — possibly by passing a supplemental defense spending bill that includes money for Ukraine — but McCarthy has already poured cold water on the deal.  

“I’m not going to prejudge what some of them [in the Senate] do, but if they think they’re writing a supplemental because they want to go around an agreement we just made, it’s not going anywhere,” he told Punchbowl News earlier this month. 

Adding fuel to the fire, House Republicans have proposed cutting an additional $119 billion from discretionary spending by setting spending targets for the annual spending bills that cumulatively fall well below the caps that Biden and McCarthy agreed to for those programs — $886 billion for defense and $703.7 for nondefense programs.  

House Republicans are proposing finding those additional savings by cutting from nondefense discretionary spending programs, which will likely put pressure on the Department of Homeland Security. 

Meeting the House Republican targets for nondefense programs could entail spending cuts ranging between 15 percent to 30 percent for the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Interior, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.  

Such a showdown over spending levels heightens the chances of Senate Democrats and House Republicans failing to agree, and then not passing the regular spending bills, which means they would have to resort to a stopgap spending measure. If they fail to pass all 12 appropriations bills by Dec. 31, that would trigger an across-the-board, 1-percent rescission for all defense and nondefense discretionary spending.  

Senate Republicans warn the 1-percent spending sequester would hit defense programs harder than nondefense programs. 

Graham and Collins also spoke out Thursday against the spending allocations Senate Democrats set for homeland security. 

Homeland Security Department funding is under pressure because of the spending cap Biden and McCarthy agreed to as part of the debt limit deal.  

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said the debt limit deal squeezed federal funding priorities across the board.  

“We were given a top-line [spending number] that was extremely challenging and difficult,” she said. “I would dare say no one on this committee, certainly Sen. Collins or I, would have negotiated that agreement. We were not in the room but we have been given that order.” 

Graham said that under the spending caps agreed to last month, the Homeland Security Department would not have enough money to stem the flow of fentanyl and other drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border. 

“If you’ve looked at the border and you feel like we can spend less on homeland security, you shouldn’t be allowed to drive. This place is falling apart. and fentanyl is killing Americans. We need more, not less, to address that,” he said.  

Graham suggested that the consequences of the spending caps would be severe if kept in place over the long-term. 

“We’re in a tough spot. I like the idea we’re not going to be perpetually bound by this,” he said. 

Collins raised similar concerns.  

“Due to the inadequacy of funding for Homeland Security and the need for additional defense funding, unfortunately I cannot support the 302(b) allocations,” Collins said of the money proposed for the Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon. 

“Our crisis at the southern border continues. We are on pace for another 2.2 million encounters with migrants this fiscal year,” she added. “Despite this ongoing calamity, the proposed 302(b) allocation would actually reduce funding for the Department of Homeland Security, limiting our ability to have sufficient personnel and technology at the southern border.” 

Graham and Collins made their comments in reaction to the $56.9 billion in budget authority that Senate Democrats proposed for the annual Homeland Security appropriations bill.  

The Republican-controlled House Appropriations panel has approved $63.9 billion in budget authority for homeland security appropriations. 

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), the chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, told colleagues at the hearing Thursday morning that he agrees with Graham and Collins that the defense funding levels set forth by the Senate and House are “inadequate.”  

“Am I happy with the defense number? No. I think it’s inadequate, quite frankly,” he said. 

He later told The Hill that he found it ironic that Republicans, who usually like to bill themselves as fiscal hawks, are the ones now looking to get around the spending caps. 

“I just felt like we had flipped positions today. Democrats were able to take the conservative [debt limit] number, and Republicans wanted the more liberal number,” he said.