WASHINGTON (AP) — A retiring Republican senator who's being closely watched for his view on President Donald Trump's potential impeachment strengthened his stance against Democrats' investigation of the president on Wednesday.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said in a written statement that impeaching Trump "would be a mistake."
Just last week, Alexander issued a more cautious statement. He said the Senate Intelligence Committee was probing Trump's attempt to prod Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential contender, and added, "I want to know the facts before I comment."
Alexander, 79, is respected on both sides of the aisle. With his four-decade political career winding down, he's been considered a harbinger of what departing, moderate GOP lawmakers might do.
Republican leaders are eager to prevent divisions within their party in a battle likely to dominate Washington for months and expected to be a major factor in next year's presidential and congressional elections.
On Wednesday, Alexander's position tilted more favorably toward Trump.
"It's inappropriate for the president to be talking with foreign governments about investigating his political opponents, but impeachment would be a mistake," Alexander said. "An election, which is just around the corner, is the right way to decide who should be president. Impeachment has never removed a president. It will only divide the country further."
Alexander aides said he was not available to discuss his position.
Other GOP senators, including Rob Portman of Ohio, have recently said Trump's actions aren't impeachable while stopping short of saying he'd done nothing wrong.
Alexander has served in the Senate since 2003 and has been a voice of moderation on some bills, working with Democrats on health and other issues. He's a former governor, presidential candidate and Cabinet member.
He's also been a defender of the Senate as an institution, including its long-standing use of filibusters, or procedural delays, to kill legislation — despite Trump's desire to kill the procedure.
Committees in the Democratic-led House are also investigating Trump's effort to push Ukraine to investigate Biden.
By citing the approach of next year's election, Alexander also echoed the argument that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., used in early 2016.
In an extraordinary move, McConnell refused to hold hearings on then-President Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland for a Supreme Court vacancy, arguing that November's elections were approaching.