The White House invited just over a half-dozen GOP senators, most of them among the president’s staunchest allies in the chamber, where many members have refrained from commenting directly on the unfolding case, arguing they will effectively serve as jurors in any impeachment trial.
But the issue of impeachment was still discussed, as Trump made his case repeatedly that the White House released a transcript of the call — the document is labeled a “memorandum of telephone conversation” — and that there was nothing wrong with its contents. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had previously urged the White House to release the information.
“On that topic, he said what he’s said in public: Read the transcript,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (Mo.), one of a handful of GOP senators who attended the lunch that was not included on the president’s public schedule. “He said a number of times that he’s really glad there’s a transcript, that he’s really glad he released it.”
Asked whether the rough transcript of the call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appeared to be Trump’s prime defense, Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.) responded: “It’s a pretty good one.”
“I mean, they say it’s a call and there’s a transcript of the call and no one has said if you read the transcript of the call, there’s a violation of law,” Scott said. “I mean, so it’s a pretty good argument.”
The president, whom Hawley described as being in a “jovial” mood, also made note of the vote in the House earlier Thursday to officially greenlight its impeachment inquiry, emphasizing that two Democrats defected from their ranks to oppose the resolution, attendees said.
“I don’t think it was lost on him,” said Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.).
The Senate Republicans who attended the lunch, where chicken was served, were Scott, Cornyn, Hawley, as well as Sens. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Tom Cotton (Ark.), Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.), and Cindy Hyde-Smith (Miss.). White House officials in attendance included Vice President Pence, senior adviser Jared Kushner, counsel Pat Cipollone, legislative affairs director Eric Ueland, and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.