WASHINGTON — Despite loudly criticizing the closed-doors secrecy of the impeachment inquiry, Senate Republicans widely say they will not watch the public hearings next week.
Some said they would be too busy, others cited a lack of faith in the inquiry itself. Sen. Richard Shelby argued it would be inappropriate to watch the hearings since impeachment will likely lead to a trial before the Senate.
“I wouldn’t want to see that,” he said of the hearings. “That wouldn’t affect me at all.”
For weeks, the GOP’s main line of attack focused on the House Intelligence Committee holding secret meetings which the public and Trump’s own lawyers could not watch. (That escalated when House Republicans stormed into the classified briefing room where the impeachment investigation is happening.) But as Democrats have started to open up and make the inquiry public, Republicans have struggled to switch from talking about process to talking about the substance of the allegations — that President Donald Trump asked the Ukrainian president for help digging up dirt on his political rivals in exchange for military aid.
It hasn’t helped that there’s been a stream of bad news for the president coming out of the hearings. First, the committees began releasing transcripts of officials who testified they believed Trump demanded a political quid pro quo from Ukraine. The most recent blow came this week when investigators revealed that US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a mega-donor to Trump, admitted he had told Ukrainian officials they would need to publicly launch an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden’s family in order for Trump to approve hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid, reversing his own earlier testimony in the House.
But many Republican senators won’t comment on these developments because they say they’ve been too busy to read the transcripts. “I’m going to do nothing on the House’s schedule, they’ve been obstructive all the way through,” said Sen. John Barrasso. Sen. Joni Ernst, who is up for reelection in 2020 in Iowa, said it’s been too difficult to keep up with the developments out of the House. “They’re selectively leaking out different documents and it’s hard to follow what they’re doing.”
Other Republicans say they’re refusing to pay attention to the impeachment inquiry out of principle. Asked if he will be tuning in when the inquiry begins televised hearings next week, Sen. Lindsey Graham said, simply, “no.” He later added, “I think the whole process is a sham.”
This has become a common refrain from the president’s most ardent supporters — that every bit of evidence made public is tainted by the partisan nature of the inquiry. Republican Rep. Ted Yoho, who is actually on one of the committees overseeing the impeachment inquiry, said last month he hasn’t been showing up to the hearings because the inquiry has no credibility. “It’s 100% political,” said Yoho. “That’s why I haven’t gone down to any of the hearings. I’m truly convinced in three weeks this won’t even be talked about.”
Many Senate Republicans wouldn’t go that far but did say they were simply too busy to tune in to the hearings. “That’s not my job. My job is to reduce health care costs, to make it simpler to go to college and to restore our national parks. That’s what I’ll be working on,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander.
Sen. Marco Rubio said he’ll be too busy working. “We have a job to do here full time.” Sen. Ted Cruz said he’s waiting for the matter to make it over to the Senate.
“I’ve got a day job so it’s hard to watch TV,” said Sen. Richard Burr, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee. “But I’ll certainly read the transcripts.” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said “no, I won’t” when asked if she’ll be following the hearings. Unlike some of her colleagues, Murkowski did say she’s read some of the transcripts, however.
Sen. Mitt Romney, who’s been quiet about impeachment, hasn’t quite committed to watching next week’s hearings either.
“I haven’t gotten my calendar organized yet for next week, so I can’t tell you the answer to that,” Sen. Romney told BuzzFeed News. "But I will certainly anticipate, that when the time comes, that I will give this very thorough dedication and evaluation.”
But there are at least a couple Republicans in the Senate who say they’ll tune in to the hearings. “Yeah, I’ll watch some of it,” said Sen. Tim Scott. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia also showed a bit of curiosity. “So much as I’m around a TV, I guess I’ll tune into it.”