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Republicans And Democrats Follow A Familiar Playbook In Responding To Cohen Plea


If you thought guilty pleas and guilty convictions from two top aides to the president of the United States might shake things up on Capitol Hill, think again. When former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort was found guilty and then former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen implicated the president in his separate guilty plea this week, Democrats and Republicans responded with a familiar playbook of responses. NPR's Scott Detrow explains.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Many Republicans sounded a lot like Texas Senator John Cornyn this week.


JOHN CORNYN: Nothing that happened yesterday or to this point has indicated any evidence of collusion or any involvement of the campaign. Sure, the Russians did attempt to meddle in the campaign. It's a serious matter - something we need to protect against in the future - but this is not why Mueller was appointed special counsel.

DETROW: They're still sticking with Trump, even though many of them distanced themselves from Trump's endless attacks on Robert Mueller's investigation. Here's South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.

LINDSEY GRAHAM: I do believe that Mr. Mueller will be fair. I don't believe this is a witch hunt, and I think he should be able to do his job.

DETROW: But Republican leaders aren't embracing bills that would protect Mueller from a Trump firing attempt. And this week's news didn't change that. It also didn't change the way most Democrats talk about Trump's legal troubles. Democrats say they're deeply concerned by all the pleas and convictions. But Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats aren't ready to start demanding impeachment just yet.

NANCY PELOSI: The Mueller investigation will continue. It will come to some conclusion.

DETROW: More and more democratic voters say they've heard enough already and want lawmakers to start proceedings now. Pelosi told KQED that's still premature.

PELOSI: Impeachment is not something that is a partisan exercise. Unless you have bipartisanship, you're just acting politically. And we think that if the facts are so self-evident then that case can come to the Congress of the United States.

DETROW: Democrats are worried a rush to impeachment could turn off voters. And Republicans are wary of criticizing a president whom their base loves. And on top of all of that, there's the uncertainty of political life in the Trump era. Alabama Republican Richard Shelby.

RICHARD SHELBY: Those news stories, they - they're hot, and then they move on. And another story takes their place. We'll have to see. I don't know.

DETROW: And Shelby was right in a way because late in the week, news outlets were reporting two more people in Trump's orbit were talking to federal prosecutors. The development did not seem to change any lawmakers' minds. Trump's approval ratings have remained relatively low but very steady through all sorts of revelations in the past. And new controversies and headlines have grabbed voters' attention over and over again.

But despite the White House's hopes to the contrary, the Mueller investigation isn't ending anytime soon. Republicans and Democrats will have to keep answering questions about it and will have to keep evaluating whether or not to stick to their pre-existing scripts. Scott Detrow, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.