WASHINGTON — Neither of Utah’s Republican senators voted for President Donald Trump in 2016. But that’s about the only thing they’ve had in common when it comes to their relationship with Trump.

Their distinct approaches toward the president have been thrown into stark relief since Trump was investigated and now impeached by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Sen. Mike Lee has been a reliable defender of the president while Sen. Mitt Romney has stood alone among his Republican colleagues in saying he was at first “troubled” then “appalled” by the allegations that Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigating political rival Joe Biden.

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As recently as late November, when hearings into the allegations took place on Capitol Hill, both Lee and Romney were in the White House the same day, but for very different reasons.

Romney had lunch with Trump, who was reportedly courting his Republican critics in the Senate who had rebuked him for also asking China to investigate Biden.

Meanwhile, Lee huddled with White House lawyers to discuss strategy for defending Trump against expected impeachment charges in the Senate.

Now a month later, a Senate trial is pending after the House of Representatives approved on a near party-line vote two articles of impeachment. Democrats and Republicans are at an impasse over rules that will govern the Senate proceedings, namely whether witnesses will be called and when that would take place.

And when that trial begins, senators will act as jurors who will decide whether Trump should be removed from office. The Senate has sat in judgment of a president only twice before and neither chief executive was convicted. And that is the expected outcome for Trump in the GOP-controlled chamber.

But there is still intrigue surrounding the possibility that some of the 53 GOP senators could vote with Democrats to alter rules or convict their party’s president. And Romney’s name often surfaces as a possible defector although it won’t make a difference in the outcome since two-thirds of the body (67 senators) would need to declare Trump guilty for him to be removed.

Either way, the public posturing before and during the trial will send signals to Utah voters about how their Senate delegation feels about Trump and how he is conducting international business. And the trial now follows aggressive U.S. military action against Iran, which overshadowed mention of impeachment for the past four days.

The messages — subtle or otherwise — are important from these senators and every pair of senators as they each represent the same geographical area of voters.

“Voters aren’t one-dimensional and they have two senators. So they want to make sure that between the two of them, they get represented on all the dimensions that they care about,” said Wendy Schiller, a Brown University political science professor and author of “Partners and Rivals: Representation in U.S. Senate Delegations.” “If they’re big Trump supporters, and that’s the most important thing to them, they want at least one of their senators to be supporting Trump vigorously.”

Loud and quiet

Those signals of Trump support or criticism have been sent to voters — and the White House — throughout the year. Before Romney was sworn in as Utah’s junior senator he let Trump know in a controversial Washington Post op-ed that he would support the president when he agreed with him and speak out when he didn’t.

When Romney tweeted that Trump’s “brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling,” Trump fired back calling the 2012 GOP presidential nominee a “pompous ass.

Lee, meanwhile, has fostered relationships with key players in the White House. After trying to derail Trump’s nomination at the 2016 GOP convention, Lee is now co-chairman of the president’s reelection campaign in Utah and has consistently defended Trump against the impeachment charges, expressing certainty the president will be exonerated by the Senate.

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“President Trump has done nothing wrong. All he did was ask the Ukrainian government to investigate a corrupt Ukrainian energy company. There was nothing wrong with that request,” Lee said on Facebook after the House impeachment vote.

Romney, on the other hand, has become conspicuously quiet on the impeachment front since his Twitter war with Trump in early October. A gaggle of media continue to trail him hoping he will break his silence but he’s consistently declined to comment on the allegations against the president as the impeachment inquiry advanced to the historic Dec. 18 vote, when Trump became the third president to be impeached by the House.

The Associated Press named Romney among seven GOP senators who could join Democrats in altering rules that would determine what witnesses could be called during the Senate trial before it begins. Until that issue is resolved, Democrats say the articles of impeachment won’t be transmitted to the Senate, a necessary step before a trial can be held. But on Sunday, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., suggested a rule change that would allow the Senate to proceed if an agreement isn’t reached by the end of the week.

Schiller anticipates Lee and Romney will continue to play their respective roles when the Senate trial convenes, with Lee speaking out on television shows and social media and Romney being more measured in his comments, if he comments at all.

“If you’re Romney, you just stay quiet, cast your vote to acquit and that’s it,” she said, calculating that Romney has more to lose than gain politically by voting to convict Trump. “You don’t have to go out and defend the president because Mike Lee’s doing it” and that’s all Utah Trump supporters need.

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A ‘political decision’

But according to interviews with the two senators, the roles they’ve assumed also stem from how they view the duty of a juror in a Senate impeachment trial.

Both men have been boning up on their duties through personal research into past impeachment cases of presidents and judges and in Senate Republican conference meetings where the topic has been discussed.

Before the trial begins, every senator takes an oath to “do impartial justice, according to the Constitution and laws: So help me God.”

Romney has alluded to the role of an impartial juror when deflecting questions about the merits of the impeachment case other than to say the allegations are serious as is the Senate’s constitutional duty to deal with them. And he may continue to take that tack when reporters corner him for comment when the proceedings are in recess.

But Lee has a more liberal view of a Senate juror who can meet with the president’s counsel, discuss the merits of the case with colleagues and form an opinion before the trial is gaveled into session without violating that oath.

“If that were the case you would have a panel of exactly zero senators eligible to participate,” he said. “There is not a single senator up here who hasn’t discussed publicly and privately about the impeachment process.”

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he has no intention of being an impartial juror in an impeachment trial.

“Impeachment is a political decision. The House made a partisan political decision to impeach. I would anticipate we will have a largely partisan outcome in the Senate,” he told reporters in December.

Lee said to compare the Senate trial to a traditional court trial is like comparing American football to rugby. There are some similarities, but the rules of the game are different.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over the proceeding where House impeachment “managers” and White House attorneys will argue their cases, but senators can overrule Roberts by a simple majority vote on rules and procedures, Romney said.

“So that suggests we are a jury, but also a bit of a judge,” he said.

That should be familiar to lawmakers. But what won’t feel natural is sitting and listening for five-to-six hour stretches unable to spontaneously respond to what’s being said. Senate jurors cannot talk to each other or use their phones or iPads during the trial, Romney and Lee said.

Lee said that under existing rules, the chief justice can punish violators with a reprimand, expel them from the chamber or even have them jailed.

“We’ve had a number of jokes amongst ourselves about which of the senators will have the hardest time not speaking for that long period of time,” Romney said. “Some of us are more prone to interrupting and speaking than others, and to have to sit and listen for five or six hours will be a trial for me and I’m sure for some of my colleagues.”