Democrats hope to bring Robert Mueller’s report to life on Wednesday. But at least one member of the target audience says “they’re just grooming a corpse.”
Senate Republicans are dismissing Mueller’s testimony to the House before it even happens. Most say they are too busy and won’t watch it, others say it’s a waste of time, and still more say it’s redundant after the special counsel already issued his springtime report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.
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Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has long said any decision on impeachment should take into account how Senate Republicans would react, wary of making a polarizing, partisan move to oust Trump that falls flat in the Senate. And the GOP is clearly signaling back that Mueller’s historic appearance has almost no chance of moving the needle for them.
“Don’t you think if I thought there was some value I would have invited him in?” said Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.). “It’s a great media spectacle… he’s already said he’s going to talk about the report. That’s it!”
“I understand what my Democratic friends are trying to do, but they’re just grooming a corpse,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). “They’re trying to keep this alive politically and they’re hoping that Mr. Mueller will say something to try to breathe new life in this. I don’t think it will succeed.”
The Senate GOP has been eager to shoot down any inkling that they would support convicting and removing the president if the House impeaches him. It’s a message that amounts to a strong signal of political support for Trump ahead one of the most highly anticipated congressional hearings in years.
It also seems to be a bet that average Americans won’t be watching, just as most Americans didn’t read the Mueller report itself, according to polls. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the “American people have moved on” and that he, for one, won’t be watching it.
So if the rest of the country is tuned out, Republicans argue, why should they tune in?
“The report is public, we’ve all been able to review it, read it. What the heck? It’s done. There’s no collusion, there was no coordination. End of story,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), echoing Trump’s talking points. “This will not change anybody’s mind.”
Republicans seem to be outdoing themselves in trying to appear as disinterested as possible. The idea that their minds could possibly be changed by Mueller’s testimony is laughable, they say.
“I’m barely interested in it. Most voters aren’t interested in it. Move on,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND.).
“I actually read the report. It’s mind-numbing. It is a snoozer,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who chairs the primary oversight committee in the Senate. “I’m supposed to be worried about obstruction of justice charges against an investigation where there was no crime at all? And the whole narrative was manufactured?”
Mueller could not establish a criminal conspiracy, but Trump critics note that the president engaged in 10 instances of potential obstruction of justice — and they say he would have likely been charged with a crime if he did not occupy the Oval Office. But that’s not what you will hear from any Senate Republicans.
Instead they are sending a message to make House Democrats think twice before joining the pro-impeachment wing that now nears 100 members. That’s particularly true considering Pelosi’s opposition to a partisan impeachment vote.
And barring something extraordinary on Wednesday, that’s the trajectory the impeachment push is on.
“From our members’ standpoint, they can try and plow new ground over there but I think most people have lost interest. If we’re their audience they may be wasting their time,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.).
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he was too busy trying to lower health care costs to monitor the hearing. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said he doesn’t watch TV during the day and hasn’t been following the drama surrounding Mueller’s testimony. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said he would check out parts of it but might wait for the highlights from the media.
Democrats who have not yet endorsed impeachment seemed more eager to watch Mueller and willing to be influenced by his testimony.
“I tend to take Nancy Pelosi’s position, that this is such a serious decision. And you ought to really hear the evidence and see if you have enough to move forward,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who hopes to watch as much of the hearing as possible. “I want them to move forward on the investigation but I haven’t reached a conclusion on how I would vote.”
There are a handful of GOP senators who said they are eager to see what Mueller says and how he says it.
Both Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine said they would review the hearing with interest. And even as some of her colleagues dismissed the event as manufactured for TV, Collins said that “since this was a taxpayer-funded investigation that Mueller should come before Congress.”
But the centrist Collins also opposes impeachment and doesn’t expect anything game-changing on Wednesday, remarks echoed by Romney, who said: “I’m not expecting any great revelation from his testimony.”
“I don’t expect that new conclusions will come from this hearing,” Collins added. “But it may fill in some of the gaps, such as more explanation of why he reached a conclusion that there was no conspiracy but didn’t reach a conclusion on the obstruction issue.”
That those two senators are skeptical about changing their minds about the underlying conclusions of the Mueller report underscores the virtual impossibility, at least for now, of finding 20 GOP votes to convict the president in the Senate.
So if the House moves forward with impeachment, it will be because its members felt obligated to sanction the president, not make a real attempt to remove Trump from office.
And some Republicans are daring the Democrats to go for it.
“The Mueller report is insufficient to impeach the president in my view,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “They’ve got a base problem. Nadler has already said there’s a case for impeachment. Just do it. Just do it if you think there’s a case there.”
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.