Sen. Lindsey Graham is leading the charge against President Donald Trump’s impeachment and removal in the Senate, even as the White House remains largely uninvolved.
Graham, who just last week said he had had “enough” of Trump’s bid to overturn the election results after he incited a deadly riot at the Capitol, has been calling around to Republican senators urging them to oppose convicting the president in the Senate’s expected impeachment trial, according to three people familiar with the effort.
Kevin Bishop, a spokesman for the South Carolina Republican, confirmed that Graham “has been calling on his own,” adding, “Honestly we’re way ahead of any request from the White House.”
Graham is taking an outsized role with the trial now certain to stretch into Joe Biden’s presidency. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday rejected Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s request that the Senate reconvene this week as soon as the House sends the impeachment article across the Capitol, according to two people familiar with the matter. That means the trial will not begin until Jan. 19 at the earliest.
With Trump set to become the first president to be impeached twice, the White House has remained largely on the sidelines. During Trump’s first impeachment, Trump had a full legal team and a messaging operation emanating from the White House — one that recruited Trump’s top allies on Capitol Hill and other outside advisers to defend the president on the airwaves.
But as the House was preparing a vote to impeach Trump on Wednesday, few Republicans were openly defending the president. Instead, some were haranguing the House’s impeachment process as rushed and unfair, and arguing that the Democrat-led efforts would further divide the country.
In a statement Wednesday, Graham criticized Senate leadership for its handling of the House’s impeachment proceedings, saying GOP leaders were “making the problem worse, not better.”
Though Graham was not specific, his comments came after the New York Times first reported, and confirmed by POLITICO, that McConnell told associates that he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses after he incited Wednesday’s insurrection at the Capitol, which left at least five people dead.
“The last thing the country needs is an impeachment trial of a president who is leaving office in one week,” Graham said in his statement, calling out the handful of Republicans who have already said they will vote in favor of impeachment.
In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, Graham had taken to the Senate floor to chastise the president and his supporters. “Enough is enough,” he said of the effort to stop the certification of Biden’s win. “Count me out.”
Two days after the riots, Graham warned Speaker Nancy Pelosi against pursuing articles of impeachment. That same day, however, he was heckled at an airport by Trump supporters, who called him a traitor.
On Tuesday, Graham rode with Trump on Air Force One to a stop at the southern border. That night, word began circulating that the senator was asking his GOP colleagues to put out their own anti-impeachment statements as a means of closing ranks around Trump and stopping the momentum that appeared to be building when it was reported that McConnell was personally comfortable with the president’s ouster. Graham’s efforts came as a surprise to at least some in leadership.
“Lindsey often does his own thing often without his staff looped in,” a senior GOP Senate aide said.
So far, few Republican senators have weighed in on whether Trump’s conduct rises to the level of impeachment, even as some have criticized his rhetoric that fueled the insurrection.