Erin Schaff for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans see the special counsel’s report — with its stark evidence that President Trump repeatedly impeded the investigation into Russian election interference — as a summons for collective inaction.
Republicans in the upper chamber, who would serve as Mr. Trump’s jury if House Democrats were to impeach him, reacted to the report’s release with a range of tsk-tsk adjectives like “brash,” “inappropriate” or “unflattering.” Only Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, called out the president’s behavior as “sickening.”
Yet no Republican, not even Mr. Romney, a political brand-name who does not face his state’s voters until 2022, has pressed for even a cursory inquiry into the findings by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, that the president pressured senior officials, including the former White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II and the former attorney general Jeff Sessions, to scuttle his investigation. Where Democrats see a road map to impeachment, Republicans see a dead end.
“I consider this to be, basically, the end of the road,” said Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, who once tried to thwart Mr. Trump’s presidential nomination and now serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has the authority to investigate Mr. Mueller’s findings.
“There is no question that some of these revelations are unflattering,” Mr. Lee said in an interview on Wednesday. “But there is a difference between unflattering and something that can and should be prosecuted.”
Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, has been as critical in private of Mr. Trump’s actions as Mr. Romney has been in public, but he, too, said it was time to move on.
“While the report documents a number of actions taken by the president or his associates that were inappropriate, the special counsel reached no conclusion on obstruction of justice,” Mr. Portman said in a statement.
That is factually accurate; in releasing his findings a week ago, Mr. Mueller laid out about a dozen instances in which the president may have obstructed justice, but he left it to Congress to reach that conclusion, counseling “that Congress has authority to prohibit a president’s corrupt use of his authority.” House Democrats responded by ramping up committee investigations, kicking off what is likely to be a long, rending intraparty debate over impeachment.
Senate Republicans saw Mr. Mueller’s invitation in far more cynical terms, as a quintessential Washington punt of responsibility, according to aides and political consultants. One senior aide to a Senate Republican put it this way: If the most respected law enforcement official of his generation did not have the temerity to accuse Mr. Trump of obstructing justice, why should they?
“The Republican Party, and the Senate, is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Donald Trump,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist based in Florida who has been a sharp critic of Mr. Trump’s. “Occasionally, a few guys in the Senate will furrow their brows, but it will never be backed up by action. They wake up every day and pray, ‘Please, God, don’t let Trump be mean to me on Twitter.’”
Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, urged the Republicans on the panel to investigate…