When asked if he thought the Senate should delay confirming President Trump’s Supreme Court pick in light of the latest bombshell revelations against the president, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) responded with laughter.
High-pitched giggles, in fact. And just in case he hadn’t been clear enough: “Tell them I turned on my laughter machine,” he told TPM to relay to the Senate Democrats.
Wicker’s response encapsulated most Senate Republicans’ reactions on Wednesday to the news that President Trump’s former attorney had pled guilty to giving two women hush money at Trump’s direction to cover up Trump’s alleged affairs, breaking campaign finance laws to do so, and that his former campaign manager had been found guilty on eight counts of tax fraud.
Most didn’t want to discuss the findings. And even the more moderate and independent senators who voiced concerns about the separate courts’ findings of guilt of two of Trump’s top former aides took a wait-and-see approach to the investigation. And almost all refused to consider Democrats’ demands that the Senate delay confirming Brett Kavanaugh to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court until the investigation into Trump’s potential misdeeds had concluded. Kavanaugh’s hearings are set to begin in less than two weeks, with the GOP aim of confirming him by the beginning of October.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that Congress didn’t need to act in light of the news that Cohen had pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws with an illegal in-kind donation to Trump’s campaign at Trump’s request and waved off questions of Trump resigning or of impeachment, even though he admitted that “I don’t think they can indict a sitting president,” leaving no way to prosecute Trump for the crime he has been accused of by his former aide.
Graham, who as a congressman managed impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, warned that Trump firing special counsel Robert Mueller “would be a disaster for him,” said Trump pardoning Paul Manafort for his financial crimes would “be seen as a bridge too far,” and warned that if Trump did collude with Russia “that would shake me to my foundation.”
But he flatly said “no” when asked if the Senate should delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, scheduled for before the midterm elections, given the growing cloud over the White House.
That’s not what most Democrats are saying on Wednesday as they fight an uphill battle to block Kavanaugh, who if confirmed could be the deciding vote on any legal matters involving presidential privilege – what Trump has to disclose to investigators — and any other matters relating to possible impeachment.
“We are on the threshold of a constitutional crisis here. It should be taken that seriously. The notion of filling a vacancy on the Supreme Court at this moment, the notion that the White House counsel will accompany the Supreme Court nominee into meetings with senators — my head’s spinning here,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) told reporters. “Now we have this guilty plea and finding of guilt for the presidents’ campaign manager and personal attorney. We are in the midst of a constitutional situation that is unprecedented. We should take care to make sure what we do we won’t come to regret in the weeks ahead.”
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), an independent-minded senator who backed one count of impeachment against Clinton, said that Congress needs to “see what’s unfolding” before taking any action to investigate Trump.
Shelby said the Senate had no reason to hold off on confirming Kavanaugh, in spite of the ongoing investigation into Trump and the mounting allegations against him.
“I plan to support him. I believe he will be confirmed to sit on the court by October 1st,” he said. “He’s a well-qualified person, just like Gorsuch.”
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), a frequent Trump critic, said pardoning Manafort “would be very damaging to his health.” When asked about delaying hearings on Kavanaugh, he said he wanted to wait “a day or two” before commenting.
“I’ve been here 11 and a half years and I’ve never witnessed anything like I’ve seen over the last year and a half. I would think that those running for office should caution themselves. I have a lot of faith in the legal process and hope the legal process will continue and that justice that needs to be done will be done,” he said a few minutes later.
Corker, Graham and others did say Cohen’s accusation was troubling. “Michael Cohen’s assertion that the president directed him to pay this money is not good news for the president,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) ducked questions about Cohen implicating Trump, saying that was the judiciary branch’s problem and “premature” to discuss any congressional action. And while he said Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion and the Senate’s own probe into Russian meddling in the American electoral system must continue, he pushed back on connecting the Supreme Court hearing to Trump’s alleged crimes.
“I don’t know what Judge Kavanaugh has to do with any of this,” he said.
Additional reporting by Alice Ollstein