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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

McConnell and Senate remind us that they hold Trump's fate in their hands

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sept. 25.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sept. 25. Credit: EPA / Michael Reynolds

While Congressional Democrats move with increasing popular support against President Donald Trump, keep an eye on the subtler actions of the Republican Party.

Shortly after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced commencement of an impeachment process, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had his colleagues unanimously approve a bipartisan resolution.

That resolution demanded that what's become known as the Ukraine whistleblower's report, denounced by Trump but apparently accurate, be quickly delivered to congressional intelligence committees, and so it was.

Last week, McConnell (R-Ky.) added that Senate rules would require him to take up any articles of impeachment that would be voted up by the House.

“I would have no choice but to take it up,” McConnell said on CNBC, but added: “How long you’re on it is a whole different matter.”

McConnell thus delivered a message that only the Senate GOP can shield the president from ejection. But don't expect the caucus to commit political suicide for Trump if his situation deteriorates enough.

In this context, Sen. Chuck Grassley defied Trump's McCarthyistic attacks on the unnamed whistleblower who helped stir the Ukraine tempest on Capitol Hill.

Grassley (R-Iowa) said: "This person appears to have followed the whistleblower protection laws and ought to be heard out and protected. We should always work to respect whistleblowers’ requests for confidentiality."

Notice that a president who is rarely reluctant to bear false witness against his neighbors generally avoids trash-talking GOP legislators these days. An exception is Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) who called Trump’s effort to sic foreign governments on former Vice President Joe Biden based on the presumption of overseas wheeling and dealing “wrong” and “appalling.”

Don't bet on McConnell forgetting how on-and-off Trump associate Steve Bannon tried to delegitimize McConnell's leadership.

Two years ago, Trumpist Bannon said during a speech at the Values Voter Summit in Washington: “Yeah, Mitch, the donors are not happy. They’ve all left you. We’ve cut your oxygen off.”

Bannon continued, “Nobody can run and hide on this one. These folks are coming for you. The days of taking a few nice conservative votes and hiding are over.”

Bannon griped that senators who criticized Trump hadn't been punished, and worked in primaries against Senate Republicans. Trump did not slap down Bannon, strategist of his own 2016 campaign. The anti-McConnell drive fizzled.

Trump's acquittal in a Senate trial depends on the GOP majority among others calculating that he won't pull them into the political abyss. If support erodes, however, having Vice President Mike Pence take over might offer an option.   

As before, it won't do for Trump to treat independently-elected colleagues as if they work for him. Republican senators may be vulnerable next year in Georgia, Iowa and Arizona.

So far, the Senate's GOP caucus gets desired results from the White House — industry deregulation, judicial appointments, patronage, and an end to pressuring the lawmakers for a new health care system, huge infrastructure spending, and immigration reform. 

For the time being, McConnell's campaign has posted an ad in which he says: "The way that impeachment stops is a Senate majority with me as majority leader." 

That shouldn't be mistaken for a lifelong oath of loyalty.

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