During a face-to-face meeting last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had some blunt advice for President Donald Trump: Stop attacking Senate Republicans.
His presidency could depend on it, McConnell conveyed to Trump, according to a person familiar with the meeting, which was first reported by Politico. If Trump is impeached by the House of Representatives, the Republican-controlled Senate will decide whether he should be removed from office.
As the House votes Thursday on a resolution guiding the impeachment process, Trump faces new pressure to keep Republicans on his side as he weathers the political crisis.
But neither he nor his team have offered their allies much in the way of strategy. And their key argument against the impeachment effort – that it began, illegitimately, without a vote – was undercut with the Democrats’ resolution.
As he faces an escalating impeachment investigation, Trump has ramped up his phone calls to Republicans, at times asking for their advice and expressing disbelief House Democrats will actually impeach him.
He’s also called on Republicans to stick together, claiming Democrats are “vicious” but are better at remaining united.
In public, Trump has conveyed a desire for his allies in Congress to defend his actions that have led to the impeachment efforts, rather than simply going after the Democrats’ process.
He’s relayed those views in private conversations as well, insisting his efforts to convince Ukraine to investigate his political rivals were above board.
Republicans, meanwhile, have been hesitant to defend Trump’s actions, and some have condemned them. That includes Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, whose criticism led to attacks from Trump.
The President said Monday he had informed Republican lawmakers he wanted to discuss the allegations against him because he thought defending himself against the facts would be easy.
“And, frankly, I told Republicans, who are really being taken advantage of – they’re really being maligned – and I think it’s a horrible thing … So, one thing I said: I’d rather go into the details of the case rather than process,” Trump told reporters Monday at Joint Base Andrews.
“I think you ought to look at the case,” Trump added. “And the case is very simple. It’s quick. It’s so quick.”
Amid increasing frustration from those tasked with defending him, Trump has continued to resist taking steps like creating a war room or hiring additional staff to coordinate impeachment messaging.
Republican members and aides on Capitol Hill have described their exasperation that the White House hasn’t done more to coordinate their messaging with lawmakers, beyond a handful of calls between senior White House officials and conservative allies.
When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced in late September that House Democrats were launching an impeachment inquiry, White House officials argued it was not a real impeachment probe because lawmakers hadn’t voted on it. They seized on that talking point for weeks as Democrats insisted one wasn’t necessary.
Behind the scenes, officials insisted there wouldn’t be any changes to the President’s legal team and no creation of a war room until they felt the impeachment inquiry was actually happening – and only then would they decide what route they were taking.
As Democrats hold their first formal vote on a resolution laying out the ground rules, there was little to indicate the White House was planning a new approach. Aides inside the administration view this as a serious error.
After a botched attempt to bring in former Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, as a legal adviser, the White House has still not hired any communications professionals to spearhead their response, nor have they brought on any new lawyers to front the legal strategy. The White House is still in talks with a former senior treasury official to handle a communications role.
Meanwhile, officials are distributing talking points seeking to downplay the significance of depositions on Capitol Hill from current and former officials who relayed concerns about Trump’s actions.
In a set sent on Thursday, the Trump campaign insisted Trump’s Ukraine expert Alexander Vindman did not reveal a “quid pro quo” between Trump and Ukraine, and said he “stated that the released transcript of President Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky was accurate.”
According to CNN reporting, Vindman did tell lawmakers, however, that his suggested edits to the call transcript went unheeded.