A “few” Senate Republicans agree that President Donald Trump's actions were impeachable, but they are unlikely to speak out against the president because they fear the political ramifications, Democratic Sen. Chris Coons said Thursday.
“There are, I believe, a few Republicans who recognize that what President Trump did here was demonstrably impeachable, but who are very concerned about the political consequences for them and their party,” the Delaware senator said in an interview on CNN.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that she has instructed House Democrats to begin the process to formally draw up articles of impeachment against Trump, saying he had abused his power "for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security."
"Sadly, but with confidence and humility ... today I am asking our chairmen to proceed with articles of impeachment," Pelosi said.
As the House prepares to draft articles of impeachment, lawmakers on the other side of the Capitol have begrudgingly begun preparing on their end, too.
“So much for being prayerful and thoughtful, I think it's a bad day for the country, I think this whole thing is a joke,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the president’s top allies in the Senate, told reporters Thursday.
“I like Nancy Pelosi as a person, but this process has been hijacked,” Graham said. “I think the most radical people in the country are running, driving the impeachment process and either she gets on the train or she's going to get run over by it.”
Other senators, however, have said they’re ready to get the impeachment trial over with.
“I guess if you're going to come up with an inadequate case, you might as well go for the impeachment and have the circus,” Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., told reporters, adding that he's glad they're getting to it "sooner rather than later."
"I think time is somewhat of the essence. People are tired of it and there's an election coming," Cramer continued. "I'm grateful for it. I'm glad. I'm anxious to see the articles and then look forward to sitting down for a trial."
A top White House official delivered Trump's demands for a "fair" Senate trial to reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
"We believe very strongly, given the fatally flawed process in the House, that if they were to elect against our better advice to provide articles of impeachment -- send articles to the Senate -- that we need witnesses as part of our trial and full defense of the president on the facts," Eric Ueland, White House legislative affairs director said.
Coons said that because Republicans hold the majority in the Senate, it will be difficult for Democrats to stop them from pursuing live witnesses as part of the Senate’s impeachment trial, such as former Vice President Joe Biden or his son, Hunter Biden, or House Intelligence Committee Chairman, California Rep. Adam Schiff.
“I suspect Republicans would quickly come to regret giving [Biden] the opportunity to speak up about President Trump's role in interfering with Ukraine in such an unprecedented way,” Coons said on CNN. “Because the Republicans have the majority in the Senate and they ultimately could set the rules for this impeachment trial by a bare majority, there is very little Democrats in the Senate could do to stop them."
Coons added, “We will be relying on a small number of Republicans who are pushing back against this idea and who recognize that impeachment is a serious, significant, constitutional moment.”
Meanwhile, some Republicans, like Cramer, do want to hear from witnesses like Schiff.
“I do think there's an increasing need for Chairman Schiff to have to testify. I think his motives ought to be brought into the scenario considering especially that he's now subpoenaed phone records of other members of Congress,” Cramer said. “I mean, clearly if other members of Congress, including on his committee, are under suspicion, then he certainly ought to be.”
The entire month of January remains a question mark on the official calendar, with senators acknowledging that an impeachment trial will likely suck up all of the “oxygen” in the room, leaving them no time to conduct other legislative business.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blasted Pelosi and House Democrats for launching the impeachment inquiry in the face of unfinished legislative items, including funding the federal government ahead of a Dec. 20 deadline.
"Only in this town, only in Washington, D.C., does anybody think it’s okay for our armed forces to go unfunded ... and a major trade deal to go un-passed ... because Democrats are too busy hosting a panel of law professors to criticize President Trump on television,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, responded to McConnell, saying he was “simply wrong” for tarnishing the House Democrats’ impeachment process.
“It's so disheartening, confounding and deeply disappointing that at this historic moment I heard the Republican Leader criticizing in such strident terms the process of the impeachment inquiry in the House for being too short and not including enough witnesses or due process for the president,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
He continued, “The charges against the president are extremely serious. No belittling of these charges will hold any water.”
Coons said Senate Democrats will continue to do work to get bills passed while the Democratic caucus continues the conversation on how they will respond during the proceedings.
“But, there hasn't been a serious beginning of negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate about what the rules will be,” he said.