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National Politics

GOP debate rages on about whether House members should be part of Trump’s defense

No final decisions have yet been made about whether close House allies of President Donald Trump’s will be a part of his defense team on the floor of the Senate during Trump’s impeachment trial, which could start as early as this week, according to an official familiar with the discussions.

Behind the scenes, many in Senate leadership have made the case that including firebrands like Republican Reps. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Jim Jordan of Ohio or Doug Collins of Georgia might not work in the President’s favor when trying to appeal to moderate Republicans to acquit him.

“My personal recommendation would be not to include the House members. The House has its role. The Senate has its role, and I think the President will be well-represented by (White House counsel Pat) Cipollone and (Trump attorney Jay) Sekulow,” one Republican senator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss internal party thinking, told CNN on Monday. “The impetus for my view is we don’t want to have a continuation of the circus in the House. We would like to try and do our job with what dignity we have left.”

The decision the President’s defense team is struggling with is its audience. The argument against including the firebrand House members in the impeachment trial is that it could alienate the moderate Senate Republicans they need on their side in order to wrap the trial up quickly. But the argument for including the President’s most ardent defenders lies in what he considers the most important: vindicating him in the nation’s eyes.

Trump has pushed for his fiercest protectors to be included because he believes they will be the best at arguing against the two charges against him.

There’s little doubt that Trump will eventually be acquitted given the Republican majority in the Senate, but some GOP members in the House and Senate have made the case to the White House that giving Jordan or Meadows a prominent speaking role would be problematic for convincing Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah.

There’s no evidence anyone of them would vote to remove Trump at this point, but what is less clear is how they will vote when forced to vote on witnesses.

Some are arguing to the White House that it’s potentially damaging to include such polarizing figures in the President’s defense with the fear that the entire Senate trial could revolve into the partisan and circus-like atmosphere we saw in the House.

“From our standpoint, they need to keep in mind the audience is not 100 senators or even 53, it is about three, four or five,” one GOP aide said. “I am not sure bringing House members helps with the larger audience.”

CNN spoke with Meadows on Monday afternoon about if he viewed his involvement as a potential liability for winning over moderates.

“It’s not my decision to make,” Meadows said adding he did have a good relationship with many members of the Senate.

“That is a decision that is going to be made by the President and his defense team,” Meadows said. “Whether that is part of an official team or other means is really a decision for someone else to make.”

“I am going to trust (Senate Majority) Leader (Mitch) McConnell to express what would best work for my Senate colleagues and not try to second guess his decision or some of the decisions of my senate colleagues,” he added.