U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and other Republican senators joined President Trump for lunch Thursday to talk about a “wide range of issues” including an ongoing impeachment inquiry.
The meeting is the latest in a series of Thursday lunches the president has called with Republican senators who could decide his fate if the current House inquiry leads to a Senate impeachment trial.
Collins, a Maine Republican who is up for re-election in 2020, has yet to comment publicly on impeachment and has cited her role as a potential “juror” in a Senate trial as grounds for not commenting on the House proceedings.
In an email Thursday afternoon, a spokeswoman for Collins said she made the following comment when asked about impeachment after the lunch: “I’m not going to get into the details of what the President said, but he made a few brief comments at the beginning. He did not ask anything of anyone. There was no procedure discussed.”
Politico reported Thursday that impeachment has been a frequent topic of discussion during recent lunch meetings between Trump and small groups of Republican senators.
Also attending Thursday’s lunch was Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who along with Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are the only Senate Republicans to not sign a GOP resolution denouncing House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
“Today’s lunch was one in a long series of Thursday lunches with Republican senators that have been going on for many weeks in Washington,” Collins said in a statement.
She said discussion at the meeting included a “wide range of issues,” such as legislation to address the high cost of prescription drugs, potential FDA regulations on vaping and e-cigarettes and government funding of bills.
“During the meeting, both (Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa) and I urged the president to support a number of bills we’ve written that would help lower the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs,” Collins said. “I also brought up the unjustified increases in the cost of insulin, which was first isolated nearly a century ago.”
News of Collins’ lunch with the president Thursday drew criticism from Maine Democrats and others who pressed for more details on her thoughts on impeachment.
The Maine Democratic Party in a written statement said Collins should answer questions, including, “Is it appropriate for a juror to dine with a potential defendant prior to a proceeding?”
Mainers for Accountable Leadership, a liberal group pushing for transparent and accountable congressional leadership, also criticized Collins for not talking about the impeachment inquiry.
“Senator Collins says she can’t ‘comment’ to the public about the impeachment inquiry or face constituents like me in a town hall to discuss the president’s quid pro quo, but she will have lunch with the defendant,” said Marie Follayttar, co-director of Mainers for Accountable Leadership, in a statement.
“She serves the people, but continues to fall in line with Trump and the party leaders,” Follayttar said.
The impeachment inquiry is in its fifth day of public hearings. It centers on whether Trump pressured the Ukrainian government to investigate the role of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while his father was vice president, withheld foreign aid over the matter and then covered it up.
If the inquiry leads to a House decision to impeach the president, the next step would be a trial in the Senate, where the vote of two-thirds of senators would be needed to remove the president from office.
After Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called for a vote on an impeachment inquiry in September, Collins cited her role as a potential juror as grounds for not commenting on the inquiry.
“The constitutional role of a senator during an impeachment trial includes serving as a juror,” she said at the time. “As such, at this point, it is not appropriate for a senator to comment on the merits of the House inquiry or to prejudge its outcome. Therefore, I will not be commenting on the House proceedings.”
At a memorial service for firefighters last month, however, Collins said it was “completely inappropriate” for a president to encourage a foreign state to investigate a political rival. Those comments came in response to a question about Trump saying China should also investigate Biden and his son.
According to the report in Politico, other senators at Thursday’s lunch, in addition to Collins, Grassley and Romney, were James Lankford of Oklahoma; Rand Paul of Kentucky; John Hoeven of North Dakota; and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.
Romney, who recently clashed with Trump publicly, resulting in the president calling him a “pompous ass” on Twitter, told The Hill after the lunch that the meeting was “delightful.”
“It was a very delightful meeting with the president and vice president and senior members of his staff and several Republican senators,” Romney said. “We were able to talk about vaping and considered various options, and each of us spoke about our thoughts in that regard.”