WASHINGTON • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested that a vote by the Democratic-controlled House to impeach President Trump could be quickly dispensed with in his chamber. One way to do that: The Republican-controlled Senate could vote on a motion to dismiss the charges without a trial.
But despite the GOP’s 53-seat Senate majority, passage of such a motion — which would require at least 50 votes, plus the vice president, if needed — isn’t a certainty, since more than a dozen Senate Republicans have been at least somewhat critical of Trump’s behavior concerning Ukraine.
These include senators like Colorado's Cory Gardner who are politically vulnerable in this election cycle, those who are retiring from the Senate, and a small band of lawmakers who feel the whistleblower complaint is concerning enough to warrant further review.
Senate aides said it is too early to know how exactly the chamber would address the matter if the House passes articles of impeachment — which would also be a simple-majority threshold vote — after its investigation into the president’s efforts to press the president of Ukraine in a July 25 phone call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.
The articles would be referred to the Senate for a trial, and McConnell has said the Senate would have no choice but to take it up.
McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, is campaigning for re-election on being able to end the impeachment process. In a Facebook ad that ran this week, he said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is “in the clutches of a left-wing mob” and added: “The way that impeachment stops is with a Senate majority with me as majority leader.”
It is unclear if any Republicans would buck the president and the majority leader and side with Democrats on moving forward on an impeachment trial. A survey of Republican senators who had expressed discomfort with the contents of Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky showed those lawmakers aren’t yet willing to speculate on impeachment’s future if it did come to the Senate.
For example, Gardner has said he supports the Senate Intelligence Committee’s review of the whistleblower complaint. But he also said this week on Colorado Springs TV station KRDO that he thought Democrats in the House were politicizing the “constitutional weapon” of impeachment.
“What we’ve seen from the House of Representatives and Nancy Pelosi is a very partisan, partisanized effort,” Gardner told reporters on Thursday in Denver.
Gardner is considered the most politically vulnerable Republican senator in this cycle, representing a state Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won in 2016 by almost 5 percentage points.
The White House strategy to aggressively counterprogram the impeachment probe and call it an attempted coup is causing division among Republicans, with some vulnerable GOP senators in swing states worried the approach could turn off moderate and independent voters and hurt their re-election campaigns.
Republicans showed willingness to break with Trump this week, as many -- including Gardner -- have criticized the president’s judgment on another foreign-policy decision: to move U.S. troops away from Syria’s border with Turkey. The action was seen by many in both parties — including the president’s close allies—as a betrayal of U.S.-allied Kurdish forces.
To remove a president from office, two-thirds of the Senate must vote to convict, meaning 20 Republicans would have to side with Democrats to remove President Trump. Because impeachment is handled by Congress, it is more a political process than a legal proceeding.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who has drawn Trump’s ire in the past, has called for more fact-gathering. In a Thursday morning interview with Utah radio station KSL, Romney said the House would need to make a decision before impeachment moved to the Senate.
“At that point there will be a process that allows all sides to be heard, and the Senate will have to decide,” he said in the interview. “And I think those of us that are in the Senate are being pretty careful at this point not to prejudge, but to wait until the House does its work.”
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, another Republican who has voiced discomfort with Trump referencing Biden on the call with Zelensky, has said he believed the House rushed into the inquiry and that he didn’t think the president’s actions were worthy of impeachment. Portman was one of the senators advocating for Trump to release the aid to Ukraine.
“We are just four months away from the start of voting in presidential primaries,” Portman said in a statement Thursday. “Instead of pursuing impeachment, Congress should focus on passing bipartisan legislation.”
Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) said last month, “I will wait for further information regarding the facts of this matter and refrain from speculating on any outcomes of this discussion and process.” A spokeswoman for Crapo confirmed Thursday his position hadn’t changed.
A spokesman for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said unless the House voted to impeach Trump, “there’s no use in speculating about what the Senate might do.” Grassley didn’t support a motion to dismiss articles against former President Bill Clinton in 1999.
Grassley has said the memo of the call released by the White House showed no quid pro quo, and that as Democrats’ push for impeachment was growing stronger, the case for such measures was becoming weaker.
McConnell plans to have a news conference next Wednesday, according to an aide.
Lindsay Wise contributed to this article.