Senate Republicans can theoretically control President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. But there’s one thing they have no power over: Trump’s itchy Twitter fingers.
And Senate Republicans, who loathe the president’s tweeting, are hoping that when impeachment comes to the Senate, Trump will do something out of character: Stay quiet.
“This is a solemn and serious undertaking and I just think we don’t need a bunch of distractions,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who added it would be “optimal” for Trump to refrain from Twitter. “The president will like the outcome, I believe, in the end. So … making it easier not harder would be a good thing.”
“The president would be best served by letting his lawyers speak for him and not doing any comment. At all,” concurred Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine.) “I doubt, however, that he will heed my advice.”
Trump has not exactly hid his feelings about the House impeachment proceedings, often tweeting that it’s “phony” and a “hoax.” The president even posted tweets attacking several witnesses who testified during the House’s impeachment inquiry. And if he continues the barrage during his impeachment trial in the Senate, it could derail the Senate GOP’s strategy, annoy undecided senators and end up hurting his efforts to win unanimous acquittal from the Republican Party.
Trump has a history of damaging his own arguments among the people whose support he needs most. During Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s arduous confirmation amid sexual misconduct allegations, Trump weighed in and made his party’s efforts more difficult. One tweet in September 2018 read: “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents,” referencing Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers.
With the House impeaching Trump Wednesday, the Senate will likely take up an impeachment trial in early January. It will be the first time the Senate holds an impeachment trial in the age of Twitter and social media — and with a president who can provide real-time commentary while senators are confined to the Senate floor.
Senate Republicans have complained for four years about Trump’s tweets. But with the remarkable drama of a Senate trial impending, even his closest Hill allies say that the president could benefit from a Twitter vacation.
“He needs to be respectful of the process,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s most vocal defenders in the Senate. “He can defend himself, he has a right to express his grievances but if I were him I would … keep a low profile.”
Trump, however, is as far from low profile as it gets, furiously posting during the House’s impeachment as many as 100 tweets a day. And what he says can create an instant controversy his party must deal with, such as when he compared impeachment to a “lynching” or when he tweeted that four Democratic minority Congresswomen should “go back” to where they came from despite being U.S. citizens.
“There [are] many cases in which I hope he doesn’t tweet,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D).
“Tweet less, smile more,” advised Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), riffing on a line from the hit musical “Hamilton.” ”It does make it more difficult but he’s going to do what he’s going to do.”
The White House did not provide comment.
Trump and his allies’ attacks on witnesses have exposed divisions among Senate Republicans, who often bristle at his aggressive tactics and insults. For example, Trump described Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, who provided key testimony to the House, as a “Never Trumper witness,” while Fox News’ Laura Ingraham said Vindman was “advising Ukraine while working inside the White House apparently against the president’s interest.” Those attacks prompted Republicans to come to Vindman’s defense, describing him as a patriot.
Trump, more recently, did not do Republicans any favors when he attacked U.S. diplomat Marie Yovanovitch as she testified last month before the House Intelligence Committee. While Republicans sought to respond to Yovanovitch’s testimony with caution for fear of appearing to attack a female foreign service officer, Trump dismantled that strategy when he tweeted: “everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.” That prompted Yovanovitch to respond in real time, calling his tweets were “very intimidating.”
Some say Trump’s tweets take away from the gravity of the historic impeachment proceedings.
“Trump makes everything less serious,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn). “He’s successful in turning everything into entertainment and a reality show … certainly the way in which he’s approaching this ends up taking some of the solemnity away from what is normally a pretty serious process.”
While Trump’s real-time commentary could also create an unwelcome sideshow during the Senate impeachment trial, Republican senators like Mitt Romney of Utah or Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — who are viewed as possible swing votes in an impeachment trial — insist they’re not paying close attention to the tweets.
“I’m not going to give the president advice on what he tweets or what he communicates during the trial,” said Romney. “I intend to be as impartial a juror as I can possibly be and I don’t imagine that I am going to be influenced by opinions that come from people outside the walls of the Senate.”
“I’ve never been a real fan of kind of the minute by minute tweets whether it’s from the president or others,” added Murkowski. “I got a lot of things going on..if I follow all that I’d never get anything done”
Senate Republicans also concede that they can’t stop the president from tweeting — even during something as serious as a Senate impeachment trial.
“He’ll do what he wants,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) “He’s not a passive observer.”
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