Most Senate Republicans have taken a cautious approach in the wake of James Comey’s firing, neither strongly defending President Trump’s decision to oust the FBI director nor directly criticizing it. And John McCain remains the only Republican senator who has joined Democrats in calling for a stepped-up inquiry of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, an issue Comey’s FBI was investigating at the time of his dismissal.
FiveThirtyEight tracked down statements on Comey’s firing from 48 of the Senate’s 52 Republican members. The responses fell into three broad categories: Twelve defended the firing, often invoking talking points similar to those used by Trump aides, who have said that Comey lost credibility with both parties because of his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Fifteen said the firing raised concerns, said Trump should provide more information about his decision or questioned the “timing” of Comey’s firing. An additional 21 senators issued vague statements that neither directly defended Trump’s action nor questioned it. FiveThirtyEight could not find a stated position from four Republican senators.1
|RESPONSE||NUMBER OF SENATORS|
|Defend Comey firing||12||
|Says firing raises concerns||15||
|No statement available||4||
In total, three-quarters of GOP senators2 stopped short of a full-throated endorsement of Trump’s decision. That lack of strong support from Senate Republicans is striking — they have overwhelmingly backed his more high-profile decisions, such as to launch an attack on Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons.
On the other hand, few Republicans have gone beyond “raising questions” about Trump’s decision and demanded action. Many Democrats in both the House and Senate have condemned Trump’s firing of Comey and said the Justice Department should appoint a special counsel to investigate whether Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election and whether members or associates of Trump’s campaign were involved. (A special counsel is part of the Justice Department but, according to federal regulations, is not subject to day-to-day supervision from DOJ officials.) Many Democrats had this position well before Comey’s dismissal. No Senate Republican has embraced that idea. For months, McCain has proposed the creation of a special congressional committee to investigate the various Russia controversies around the 2016 election and Trump. McCain made that proposal again in the wake of the Comey firing on Tuesday, but he remains alone among his 52 GOP colleagues in taking that stance.
There will be no formal vote on the Comey firing, which the president had the authority to do on his own. But the views of Republican senators are significant. Democrats are suggesting that they will try to stall Trump’s appointment of a new FBI director until the president appoints a special counsel. But because Democrats control only 48 seats in the Senate, such a blockage would require at least three Republicans to join it as well. Any kind of special congressional committee would likewise require the votes of some Republicans to be created. And as Business Insider explained, Congress could authorize the creation of some kind of special counsel on its own. But that would likely require a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress, since Trump would be likely to veto such a proposal.
So far, no Senate Republican has said that he or she would stall a Trump FBI appointment or support a bill to appoint a special counsel to look into Trump’s Russia ties.
Views of members of the House are important as well — impeachment proceedings, if the Russia story ever progressed that far, would need to begin in the House. FiveThirtyEight hasn’t compiled a comprehensive list of responses in the House, but statements collected by ProPublica suggest that relatively few House Republicans have issued statements. There has been no indication of a groundswell of Republicans in the House criticizing Trump for the Comey firing, even as Democrats in that chamber also call for a special counsel.
Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Ben Casselman, Kathryn Casteel, Meena Ganesan and Ritchie King contributed reporting.