Senate Republican leaders had hoped to focus on getting their unpopular health insurance reform bill over the finish line when they returned from a week of BBQs and fireworks. Instead, their first full day back in Washington after their July 4th break was spent dodging questions about the emails Donald Trump Jr. released showing he and others in his father’s campaign were open – eager, even – to receive assistance from Russian operatives.
But it remains unclear if these latest revelations change anything in bitterly divided, hyper-partisan Washington.
“All this stuff about Trump’s sons and daughter – it’s a bunch of bunk,” Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, the president pro tempore of the Senate and third in line for the presidency, told a group of reporters Tuesday. “Let me put it this way: I don’t think that’s relevant to the Trump administration.”
Democrats, and a handful of Republicans, see it differently. Former Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine says the revelation raises the stakes of the Russia investigation and now expands it into the realm of investigating Trump Jr. and other campaign associates for “treason.”
Other Democrats say the emails show the hypocrisy of Republicans who are still clinging to Trump.
“It becomes now impossible to have a charitable explanation for what’s going on – that’s over. And anybody who tries to spin this as anything other than exactly what it looks like is going to lose all of their credibility,” Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz tells reporters. “It looks like laws were violated.”
But will the latest New York Times reports have any impact on policy? Lawmakers are asking themselves that question, especially as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he’s delaying the Senate’s sacred August recess for two weeks, giving senators more time to try and cobble together a health care bill that can garner the support of 50 Republicans.
“The seriousness of these allegations today probably put the health care debate in more jeopardy,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy tells Rolling Stone. “Generally focusing on Russia is a gift to Mitch McConnell and his health care negotiations. These revelations today rise to a level that likely complicate his health care work given that every one of his senators is going to be surrounded like this today.”
But many Republican senators, surrounded by throngs of reporters as they traverse the Capitol, aren’t taking the bait.
“No comment,” Republican Sen. Tom Cotton tells reporters on his way to a bank of elevators in the Capitol’s basement. As he’s slowed down by reporters, the doors shut on him. “Oh no, you’re leaving me out with the press,” he says.
The press corps wasn’t letting up on the Army veteran who gained notoriety for getting his GOP colleagues to send a letter to Iranian leaders trying to undermine former President Obama’s nuclear deal with the country.
One reporter tries to goad Cotton – an Army veteran who gained notoriety for getting his GOP colleagues to send a letter to Iranian leaders trying to undermine former President Obama’s nuclear deal with the country. “You’re Tom Cotton – Tom Cotton doesn’t take that meeting!” the reporter says, of what he imagines Cotton’s thinking about Trump Jr. taking a meeting with the Russians. The senator is unflinching.
But the Senate’s war hawks aren’t happy with the revelations, predicting they’ll complicates the health care negotiations.
“Another shoe just dropped – another shoe will drop,” Republican Sen. John McCain tells Rolling Stone. “It sucks the oxygen out of the room.”
Other senators are waiting to see if the president does something to distract from the Russia investigation.
“President Trump always finds ways to control the news cycle, so I’m sure he’ll have a way of dealing with this in an unpredictable manner – he’s done that in the past,” Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, tells Rolling Stone.
Cardin says the emails add urgency to the bipartisan effort to heap new sanctions on Russia – an effort that sailed through the Senate by a vote of 98-2, but has been stalled in the House, in part because the White House has been working behind the scenes to water down the bill.
“Absolutely. There’s no question that the United States needs to respond, Congress needs to respond. I have contacted House members and urged them to take up and pass this bill quickly,” Cardin says.
As for the impact on the Russia investigations themselves, the two heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee are reacting to the news with their signature different styles.
“You have to wait til we finish the investigation until we draw any conclusions,” Republican Sen. Richard Burr says as he runs from a gaggle of reporters.
But the top Democrat on the intelligence committee, Sen. Mark Warner, says the revelations increase the stakes of their work and reveal the many lies that have been coming from top White House officials.
“It doesn’t change anything. It simply makes the investigation all that more important, and it means that we have a lot more questions to ask Trump campaign officials and those affiliated with the campaign,” Warner tells Rolling Stone. “All of these denials that we heard in the campaign, during the transition, in the administration – that there were no contacts with Russians, no discussions about the campaign – are all patently false.”