WASHINGTON — Damning impeachment testimony this week from EU Ambassador Sondland and State Department officials is accomplishing the seemingly unthinkable: It’s driven a wedge between President Trump’s talking points and his usually loyal Republican allies in the Senate, at least temporarily.
“I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo,” Trump said on the South Lawn of the White House Wednesday, as he recalled his conversation between himself and the ambassador on Sept. 9, the same day the House Intel Committee learned of the whistleblower's complaint.
But in his earlier testimony, Sondland removed any doubt that a quid pro quo conditioning military aid to Ukraine on investigations into the Bidens was exactly the president’s intent, and everyone knew it. “Everyone was in the loop,” Trump’s handpicked ambassador testified under oath. “It was no secret.”
Trump's latest claim blindsided House Republicans who had weeks ago shifted their defense of Trump from “no quid pro quo” to a version of “this quid quo pro is not impeachable.” Meanwhile, Senate Republicans, who would serve as jurors in a Senate impeachment trial, were trying to avoid any discussion of it altogether.
“I don’t watch television,” Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee told VICE News while dashing to a “Senators Only” elevator under the Capitol, though it’s pretty hard to miss all the TV screens in the building.
Other Republican senators spent Wednesday trying to avoid pesky reporters asking about the stream of bombshell revelations from the hearings. But some couldn’t help but weigh in when asked if they thought Sondland’s allegation was potentially an impeachable offense.
“Is he [Sondland] the only person that knew this? Nobody else knew it?” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, dismissively asked reporters.
More than a dozen Senate Republicans told VICE News they’ve been avoiding the impeachment proceedings in the House because they’re expecting to be called on to be the jury in the impeachment trial if House Democrats muster the votes to impeach.
“I'm really not going to comment on evidence as it comes forward in the House investigation,” said Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, often a vocal Trump critic. “I will be reviewing evidence in-depth when the — when and if — articles of impeachment are brought to the Senate.
Still, most Republican senators seem to watch at least some television — especially Sondland’s much-anticipated testimony.
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind), who just last month was arguing “no quid pro quo,” doesn’t seem to be persuadable on the question of impeachment.
“A lot of things may not be appropriate. But this is a question: Does it rise to the level of impeachment? That’s a totally different issue”
“A lot of things may not be appropriate. But this is a question: Does it rise to the level of impeachment? That’s a totally different issue, and none of this has,” Braun said. “I'm pretty certain that's what most of my cohorts in the Senate are thinking, and I know that's what Hoosiers are thinking, and most of Middle America.”
Even with that assessment of the Republicans’ stance, some Democratic senators are still holding out hope that their GOP counterparts will come around yet.
“We shouldn't give up on convincing Republicans to do the right thing. I mean, this is so far beyond Watergate when it was Republicans who ultimately convinced the president to resign,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told reporters at the Capitol.
That’s why Murphy is also cautioning his former House colleagues to take their time in laying out their case against Trump.
“Every day this goes on, the more crystal-clear it is what happened and the harder it is for Republicans to turn a blind eye,” Murphy said. “Ultimately, I would rather have this vote not be a partisan vote, and I don’t think we have all of the evidence yet.”
Cover: Gordon Sondland, the U.S ambassador to the European Union, testifies before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 20, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
This article originally appeared on VICE US.