But some GOP senators like Majority Whip John Thune acknowledged the picture being reported is “not a good one.”
If a top U.S. envoy’s testimony about Ukraine is a Capitol Hill bombshell, the Senate appears to be outside the blast zone.
Senate Republicans are largely dodging questions about the substance of William Taylor’s testimony, which rocked the GOP argument that President Donald Trump did not engage in a quid pro quo with the Ukrainian government.
While GOP senators aren’t defending the president’s alleged behavior, many are throwing out a litany of complaints about House Democrats’ procedural handling of the impeachment inquiry and demanding to see more documents and the full transcript of the deposition.
“The way the House is handling it now is like a rolling oppo dump. Every day they take in this testimony and they leak out the pieces that they want,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has reviewed Taylor’s testimony and said he had no reason to doubt the words of the U.S. envoy to Ukraine. “It is a bad process, not just for the president. It’s a bad process for the country.”
Such sentiment may be a sign that the Senate Republicans who will determine whether Trump is removed from office in any impeachment trial aren’t ready to break with him just yet. But it also suggests that Republicans are more comfortable fighting on process grounds rather than substance, given they don’t know what revelations might emerge next.
And some are refusing to play ball at all. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), for example, said he has no plans to review any more daily, hourly or “minute-by-minute” coverage of the impeachment proceedings.
“I don’t know Bill Taylor from Adam. I know you better than I know Bill Taylor. I’ve been busy… doing important things, not participating in a sham process over in the House,” Cornyn said. “The drip drip drip of leaked testimony is producing daily news stories like you’re asking me about it. It’s part of their plan and scheme and I do not approve.”
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a stark defender of the president, said he too hasn’t reviewed it.
Informed he is mentioned in Taylor’s opening statement, Johnson replied that he’ll “have to read it.”
There does not appear to be a coordinated strategy between the White House and Senate Republicans, leaving many in the party to choose their own way. The White House has not delivered a top-down message to all senators and their offices, according to Republican senators and aides.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, bashed House Democrats for not making public Taylor’s testimony.
But Thune also conceded that the first round of details could be damaging after Taylor testified that Trump refused to release military aid or hold a White House meeting with the Ukrainian president unless he probed Trump’s political opponents.
“The picture coming out of it based on the reporting we’ve seen is, yeah, I would say it’s not a good one,” Thune told reporters. “But I would say also, until we have a process that allows for everybody to see this with full transparency, it’s pretty hard to come to hard and fast conclusions.”
“It appears to be an important piece of evidence. But without being present for the Q and A and without more transparency in this process, it’s difficult to assess,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). Taylor “is certainly a credible individual with years of service to his country. By no means” should he be dismissed.
Yet some in her party were doing just that after seeing his opening statement and the subsequent reporting. Trump’s closest allies immediately tried to rebuff the notion that Taylor’s opening statement was explosive, despite the damning picture it painted of Trump dangling aid in exchange for public statements about opening investigations into Biden and the 2016 election.
“It made it easier for me to say this is all bullshit. We don’t try somebody in America by releasing an opening statement,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “Where is the cross examination? I want to hear him under oath. Nobody would accept this if we were doing it to a Democrat. I can only imagine the pushback we would get.”
“This is a one-side show trial, don’t they do that in Russia?” added Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.). “How could anybody be concerned about it until they hear the counter?”
Those comments, however, don’t reflect the majority of the Senate Republicans, who are likely to sit in judgment of the president in the coming weeks after the House impeaches him. Many GOP senators are approaching the actions of the president and his allies with caution, even as they rail on the process of the impeachment inquiry.
Meanwhile, a surprising number of Republicans said they were unfamiliar with even the gist of Taylor’s testimony.
“Haven’t seen it. Haven’t read it,” said Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the Foreign Relations chairman. He said would not rely on “third-party” descriptions of it.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has expressed discomfort with the prospect of tying aid to an investigation into Biden and is not exactly the closest of allies with the president.
But on Wednesday, she took a reporter’s copy of Taylor’s opening statement and expressed frustration that the House committees hadn’t circulated it themselves.
“How did you get this? Are the committees releasing it? I mean, even the opening statement? Do you think that’s problematic,” she asked. “You guys are trying to report, you’re trying to tell me what was said. But you don’t have it firsthand, I don’t have it firsthand, so how do we know what’s going on?”
She promised to read the document as she stepped onto the Senate subway back to her office.