LAS VEGAS — GOP Rep. Mark Amodei's comment seemed harmless enough. Asked what he thought of the Democrats' impeachment probe into President Donald Trump, the Nevada Republican gave reporters a vague dodge: "Let's put it through the process and see what happens."
Within about an hour, Amodei was on phone calls with his party's leaders and the White House, explaining himself. No, he did not intend to be the first Republican to endorse the investigation, he told House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, as his Facebook page exploded with angry Republicans.
Amodei's episode stemming from a phone call with reporters last Friday is something of a cautionary tale for Republicans as they try to answer questions about impeachment, Trump's behavior and the rocky road ahead. In the highly charged partisan environment, even nods to bipartisanship or process can sound like betrayal.
"I'm a big fan of oversight, so let's let the committees get to work and see where it goes," Amodei said in the call.
Amodei is a moderate who sometimes makes a point of striking a nonpartisan tone. But he's also the chair of Trump's campaign in the state. His apparent endorsement of the Democrats' investigation quickly became a headline. His Facebook page filled up with people calling him a "traitor" and "RINO" (Republican in name only) who should be voted out of office — along with some scattered praise from those across the aisle.
The backlash is one gauge of the pressure rank-and-file Republicans face. House GOP leaders have aggressively defended Trump against accusations that he abused his power when he asked the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden and his son. They've tried to shift the focus to Biden and dismiss the president's request as unimportant. Over the weekend, several of those defenses resulted in viral videos of Republicans dodging questions and uncomfortable interviews. Trump, meanwhile, has gone to new levels of outrage, suggesting the people leading the probe should be arrested and charged with treason.
For Republicans seeking to appear measured and who may need anti-Trump voters to win their elections, the safest move may be to keep the mess at a distance.
Amodei is not considered in danger in his northern Nevada district, which encompasses Reno and a swath of rural towns. Republicans make up 4 in every 10 voters in the district, while Democrats count every 3 voters out of 10. Last year, Amodei easily defeated a primary challenge from tea party favorite Sharron Angle and a general election challenge from former Obama administration official Clint Koble.
Still, the congressman has at times struggled to break from the president. In 2017, he initially opposed Republican plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, saying the plan would gut Medicaid funding for the state. He later decided to support the plan, saying that upon further research and conversations, he concluded that deep cuts would be avoided.
In his meandering remarks to reporters on Friday, Amodei said he does not think "at this point in time" that the president committed an impeachable offense but did not come down hard on the Democrats' probe.
A whistleblower complaint that touched off the controversy should be processed by "all the committees that have a dog in that fight for oversight," Amodei said.
His remarks in some ways echoed the name game Democrats played for months before the Ukraine scandal broke. Democrats claimed they had effectively launched an impeachment probe by conducting oversight investigations into Trump on a host of matters, even though none of those investigations carried the impeachment label. The argument was aimed at appeasing progressives in the party who wanted them to be more aggressive. On Friday, Amodei seemed to adopt that view, backing an investigation, just not an impeachment investigation.
The comments quickly prompted the congressman's phone call with McCarthy, as well as calls with No. 2 GOP House leader Steve Scalise and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
Amodei issued a statement attempting to clarify his remarks, although he did not succeed. "In no way, shape or form did I indicate support for impeachment," he said. But he also said that the first news article that said he "supports the House's inquiry into whether President Donald Trump should be impeached" is "absolutely an accurate statement."
In a weekend interview with conservative Breitbart News, Amodei declared that he does not support the impeachment inquiry — but again reiterated that he felt the initial news article was fair and accurate.
Amodei's spokeswoman Logan Tucker said Amodei is "a process guy that doesn't get into 'inside-the-beltway' word semantics. From any logical standpoint, "inquiry", "process", and "fact finding" are interchangeable."
She noted the congressman voted twice last week in favor of a resolution officially disapproving of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision to open an impeachment inquiry.
On the calls from party leaders she noted, "Everyone in leadership and in the administration that Mark has talked to heard him out."
Associated Press writer Alan Fram in Washington contributed to this report.