Fresh off a series of scathing attacks from Donald Trump because of his vote to remove the president from office, Mitt Romney spent Tuesday hunting for votes for the president’s agenda.
Life outside the Senate might never be the same for the Utah Republican, who became the first senator to vote to remove from office a president of his own party and is sure to endure an unending stream of attacks from Trump and his allies.
But inside the Senate, Romney is resuming life as usual.
At the first closed-door party lunch since the impeachment trial, there wasn’t a single word uttered about Romney’s stunning decision to find Trump “guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust.”
And despite some calls to kick Romney out of the Republican Conference and a fusillade of disses from the president himself, Romney was still on the leadership’s whip team and on Tuesday said in a brief interview that he had his "whip card out to whip another piece of legislation.”
In other words, Senate Republicans — including Romney — have already moved on. And there will be no retribution on Trump’s behalf.
“The president’s going to do what he’s going to do. That’s his M.O. when it comes to politics, and that’s not going to change no matter what any of us think or feel,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said. “But it won’t change [Romney’s] standing in the Senate.”
“Everybody understands that occasions are going to arise invariably where they are going to have to vote their conscience and it’s going to make them an outlier for the conference. I think we all respect that,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said.
Trump has called Romney a “failed presidential candidate” and accused him of using his faith “as a crutch.” On Tuesday, Trump said Romney was a "disgrace" for voting to convict him. Trump has retweeted conspiracy theories about Romney’s ties to Hunter Biden and claimed he hurt “some very good Republican senators.” On Monday, days after being acquitted, Trump couldn’t let it go. During a White House event with governors, Trump told Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, “you keep him, we don't want him.”
Donald Trump Jr. said Romney should be tossed from the Republican Conference, which would narrow the GOP’s majority to 52 and make life harder for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who is up for reelection and is running as a close Trump ally, said he was confronted by a constituent about that idea. Tillis asked the person if they remembered who won the Super Bowl rather than the final score — emphasizing that what’s important is that Trump was acquitted, not the margin of the victory.
“I disagreed with the vote he took last week, but if you go back and look at his body of work on judges, on a lot of other policies we’re moving forward, it’s pretty solid,” Tillis said. “Go back and objectively look at Mitt’s record. He’s been a member in good standing.”
Indeed, Romney this week went back to supporting Trump’s agenda, helping advance several Trump judges and confirm a record-setting 51st Circuit judge on Tuesday.
With those votes and his refusal to respond to Trump’s attacks, Romney made clear that he’s not joining the resistance to Trump’s agenda even if he believes Trump is no longer fit for office. Romney seems to see little utility to engaging in a war of words with the president, a stance that makes it much easier for his colleagues to move on.
“I fully respect that my colleagues voted their conscience. And they respect that I did,” Romney said in the interview. “And I’m honored to be with a group of people that recognize differences but acknowledge that people of character can come to different conclusions.”
At the party lunch, which featured Vice President Mike Pence, there was no discussion of the impeachment trial or of Romney, Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana said. Instead, Pence talked about the presidential campaign and the president’s agenda moving forward.
And Republicans who had previously expressed dissatisfaction with Romney dialed their frustration way back.
After Romney criticized the phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as “troubling to the extreme,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said Romney had “gone down the same path as the Democrats like Nancy Pelosi” and that Romney “thinks the worst of the president.”
But nearly a week after Romney’s vote to remove the president, Scott essentially shrugged.
“I disagree with it. I’m surprised, but I represent Florida,” Scott said. “He represents Utah. And I don’t know if that’s what they believe or not.”
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.