WASHINGTON ― Most congressional Republicans shrugged off the stunning revelations that President Donald Trump asked a foreign leader to investigate a political rival, dismissing a White House summary of the July 25 call between him and Ukraine’s president as overhyped and a “nothing burger.”
But a few Senate Republicans gingerly distanced themselves from Trump on Wednesday, signaling their discomfort with portions of the conversation even as most in their party rallied around the president and said he had committed no wrongdoing.
“I don’t like seeing that,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said when asked about the call. He did not elaborate on what he didn’t like about it.
Thune added, however, that he saw “a big difference” between the Trump’s words on the call and something that constitutes an impeachable offense, as many Democrats in the House and Senate have alleged.
“Would it have been better had he not brought up (Joe) Biden’s name? Yes, I agree with that,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said, referring to the former vice president who’s now seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. “But the rush to judgment by (the House, where an impeachment inquiry is starting) I think is totally unwarranted. We’re talking about changing the results of an election in the United States.”
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said based on the summary he saw no “quid pro quo” ― meaning he believed Trump did not offer security aid to Ukraine in exchange for the nation’s president opening an investigation that would include a focus on Biden and the former vice president’s son Hunter. But he did take issue that the subject was broached.
“While the conversation reported in the memo relating to alleged Ukrainian corruption and VP Biden’s son was inappropriate, it does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense,” Toomey said in the statement.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told reporters that Trump “asking a leader of a foreign government to investigate a political opponent is, in my opinion, a troubling matter.” He declined to elaborate on what consequences Trump ought to face over it.
The majority of Republicans on Capitol Hill defended Trump, characterizing his call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky as typical of conversations between world leaders. Some insisted they would have the same opinion of the matter if the facts were reversed and a Democratic president asked a foreign leader to investigate his Republican rival.
“I’d be saying the same thing if there was the same phone call. There’s nothing wrong here,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told HuffPost.
In the call summary, Trump urges Zelensky to work with U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani in pursuit of dirt on the Bidens. Democrats said the conversation, along with an “urgent” complaint from the intelligence community concerning Trump’s conduct with a foreign leader, affirmed their decision to move forward with an impeachment inquiry.
The substance of the complaint still could prove troublesome for Trump allies. After viewing it behind closed doors on Wednesday, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) urged Republicans “not just circle the wagons,” adding that “there’s obviously a lot that’s very troubling there.”