WASHINGTON – Subdued Senate Republicans on Wednesday rued the added hurdles their party will face in the fall elections a day after President Donald Trump’s former lawyer pleaded guilty in one federal court and a jury convicted his former campaign chairman in another.
But despite former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s guilty plea to fraud and campaign finance violations and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's conviction in a financial fraud trial, some Republicans insisted the president’s base will not desert him.
Still, as Democrats began accusing Trump and his party of corruption, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said nothing about Tuesday’s stunning news, and some GOP senators said they’d wait to see the impact.
Republicans were quick to say the Cohen and Manafort cases had nothing to do with possible Russian collusion to help the Trump campaign that special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating.
But they acknowledged it would be a campaign issue to contend with in the November elections.
"It will be one more problem we’ll face,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), speaking about the midterms in which the president’s party historically loses seats in Congress. “It’s just another thing to talk about other than the economy and how well things are going.”
Asked Wednesday about the potential political fallout, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said, “Yesterday wasn’t a great day anywhere in America. But all that has to play out.”
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said, “I don’t know. I really don’t. I haven’t seen any polls.”
Political analyst Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia predicted that Trump’s core base of supporters won’t be shaken now after sticking with him through the past 18 months. And an enthusiastic audience greeted Trump Tuesday night at a rally in West Virginia.
In Suffolk County, where Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton easily in 2016, county Republican chairman John Jay Lavalle said he didn’t expect the issue to diminish local support for Trump. “I don’t think it has any real impact at all,” LaValle said. “It’s minimal.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said in an interview at a Mount Sinai Senior Center that he’s not worried about fallout from issues such as the Cohen and Manafort cases affecting his re-election bid.
“There are people who care about this issue,” Zeldin said. “But for every one person who says this is the number one issue impacting their vote, I come across exponentially more people identifying another issue as the most important issue to them.”
Democrats, however, see it as an issue that will stick in the fall.
“There is now an unmistakable, sinister hypocrisy to President Trump’s campaign slogan: ‘drain the swamp,’ ” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday. “President Trump brought the worst swamp we have seen in Washington’s history.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) mused about whether there were grounds for impeachment in Cohen’s plea agreement that implicated Trump. Cohen said Trump had directed him to pay off two women during the 2016 election to keep them silent about affairs they said they had with him – a violation of campaign finance law.
But even stunned Republican senators quickly pushed back Wednesday on Schumer’s demand that they delay Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s Sept. 3 confirmation hearings -- not just to wait for records, but because Cohen implicated Trump in a crime.
Schumer said if Kavanaugh believes that no sitting president can be held responsible for crimes, then “the doubts about Judge Kavanaugh’s fitness for the bench were just magnified by Mr. Cohen’s plea agreement.”
In a 2009 article, Kavanaugh said, "we should not burden a sitting president with civil suits, criminal investigations, or criminal prosecution." If a president were to do something "dastardly, the impeachment process is available."
The White House said the hearings would proceed as scheduled.
With David M. Schwartz