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Amid Trump Jr. Emails, Leaders Stay on Health Care

Majority, minority leaders stay on message

Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to President Donald Trump, and Vice President Mike Pence talk as they leave the Senate Republicans' policy lunch in the Capitol on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to President Donald Trump, and Vice President Mike Pence talk as they leave the Senate Republicans' policy lunch in the Capitol on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walked up to his weekly Tuesday presser faced with damning evidence that President Donald Trump’s son and key advisers met with individuals connected to the Russian government on the promise of comprising information against candidate Hillary Clinton.

But McConnell opted not to weigh in on the news that sent shock waves through Capitol Hill and reignited attention on the investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election.

Instead, the Kentucky Republican touted the chamber’s continued work on legislation to overhaul the U.S. health care system — despite growing evidence the effort was on shaky ground — and his decision to postpone the upcoming August recess for two weeks to further advance the GOP legislative agenda.

“The news of the day is that, as I think you already know, is we’ll be on health care next week. We’ll be laying out a revised version of the repeal and replace effort, the text of that on Thursday morning. We hope to have a [Congressional Budget Office] score by the beginning of the week and a motion to proceed to that bill next week,” McConnell said upon taking the podium.

When asked about the revelations regarding Donald Trump Jr.’s emails, McConnell said the “investigation in the Senate is being handled by the Intelligence Committee and I’m sure they’ll get to the bottom of whatever may have happened.”

The strategy is one McConnell has employed since President Donald Trump entered the Republican primary: keep an arm’s distance from the constant drama surrounding the business tycoon and former reality TV star, and keep attention focused on the work the GOP majority is doing in the Senate.

But as pressure grows on the White House over their alleged connections to the Russian government, McConnell is not the only member staying silent on the matter. Over a dozen GOP members on Tuesday either declined to comment on the new development, or said they had no opinion on the matter.

“It has nothing to do with what we need to get done in August,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said when asked at a press conference in which he and other Republicans called for the postponement of the recess. “The process is going to follow out and we’ll let the committees of jurisdiction or the appropriate folks at the Department of Justice sort that out. But that’s the very thing we need to not be distracted by.”

Several others said they had not yet read the emails that outlined a desire by Russian officials to share potentially damaging information on Clinton as part of Kremlin’s support for the Trump campaign.

When asked whether he would have alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to the emails, Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., said he had no opinion on the matter.

Some of McConnell’s key lieutenants, however, are weighing in.

“So far there’s been no evidence of collusion. But certainly we’ll be interviewing all the witnesses and hearing more from everybody while we get to the bottom of it,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said.

But even Democrats, who in prior months threatened to slow-roll the Senate calendar in the aftermath of former FBI Director James B. Comey’s termination, chose instead on Tuesday to keep the attention on the Republican attempt to repeal and replace large portions of the 2010 health law.

In an effort organized by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, Democrats took to the floor to share stories of concerned constituents about the legislation that would put Medicaid on a stricter budget and rework the tax subsidies that currently help individuals afford insurance.

Now, the pressure is on the ongoing investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Members of that panel said on Tuesday they had no prior knowledge of the email exchange, but said it raises legitimate questions that need to be addressed.

“It’s obviously helpful for him to dump all the emails, there’s some other questions that are formed around that,” the Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said. 

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report. 

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