PITTSBURGH, Pa. — President Trump’s first handpicked ambassador to Ireland will be hoping to end the summer of reconciliation on his current trip to Pittsburgh.
But a chance meeting last week between Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., appears to be highlighting political turbulence on the Right.
Both senators have requested to meet with President Trump to discuss their push to oust disgraced Senator Bob Menendez from the Senate, according to a White House official.
Trying to maintain their independence from the President, to whom they both owe their jobs, the duo are hoping to convince a majority of Republicans to pull the trigger on their expected resolution to expel the New Jersey Democrat.
Toomey, a staunch conservative, has been a vocal critic of Menendez, after the senior senator opened an investigation into a Penn State student who had accused his former supervisor and close friend, Dr. Salomon Melgen, of molesting him.
Menendez had amassed a guilty verdict in that probe in April, but then ended up getting a mistrial when it was revealed that prosecutors had withheld exculpatory evidence. The jury reportedly thought the defense had not shown its hand.
While both senators are viewed as moderates within their party, they are attempting to present their efforts as attempting to restore integrity to the chamber, in the wake of the incredible sexual abuse scandal involving Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.
Flake has indicated that he will retire from the Senate before the November elections, allowing him to focus on re-election to his own seat, which he’s held since 2012.
According to the White House official, both senators would like to talk with the President at some point on the possibility of Menendez’s departure, whether it be at this week’s summit with Kim Jong Un in Singapore or during his trip to Illinois.
Both Toomey and Flake have asked President Trump to make a final decision about Menendez, but he has already instructed the White House to not tell either senator when they should and should not speak to the press, an unusual move in the U.S. Senate.
An earlier attempt to move Menendez to the back of the line had sputtered because both Toomey and Flake said they would not support the measure without a price-tag attached.
Even if they receive President Trump’s blessing on the motion, both senators will still need to find a way to move Menendez’s replacement through the upper chamber.
If they fail to find the votes they need to remove Menendez, Flake will be the first member of the Republican Party to leave the chamber because of differences with the President.
Toomey, who succeeded longtime Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania in 2011, has spent his career navigating centrist politics that have, at times, put him on the fringe of his party.
The thinking in Congress has always been that even if Flake comes to his senses, he will still need to find a way to govern with the GOP-controlled Senate in the future.
Recently, though, both men have publicly signaled they are seeking to speak to the public about a process that many Senators view as an issue that will eventually force them to vote for the expulsion of a sitting member of the upper chamber.
They would even appear to be considering forming an unlikely alliance to push through the process.
Flake has spent his career as a member of the far-right Freedom Caucus, but has softened his tone in recent months and announced his support for the New York native in the last few weeks.
It remains to be seen if Toomey will join him, and if the effort is successful, will Corker and Flake have other upsides in their quests to bring down the last Democrat holding a seat in the GOP-controlled upper chamber.