Many Republican senators were visibly shocked by the extensive video evidence presented last week by those responsible for the Democratic House indictment. They showed how the former president spent months spreading lies about the November election among his supporters and then unleashed the anger of the crowd to the point of killing them on the 6th. Janvier stormed Capitol Hill and violently beat police officers who they said were following Trump’s orders to stop certifying ballots.
And unlike Trump’s trial during his first indictment, in which he could have argued that he had been acquitted, several GOP senators stood up for him on Saturday. Clearly, many still fear the electoral consequences they would face if they stood in the former president’s way, and so they based their vote on the weak procedural argument that they do not have the power under the Constitution to convict him, since Mr. Trump is already out of office. (An overwhelming majority of constitutional experts disagreed with this premise, and by the beginning of the week the Senate had already voted to make the process constitutional.)
Trump, as usual, played the victim in his speech after the vote, saying impeachment was another step in the biggest witch hunt in our country’s history and that no president had ever experienced anything like it.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – who is clearly trying to wrest his party from Trump’s power, even though polls show Trump still has the support of the Republican majority – essentially repeated the managers’ arguments for impeachment in the House in a remarkable speech on Saturday that was seen as the height of hypocrisy, given that the Kentucky Republican had just voted in Trump’s favor.
Noting that the tone in some sectors of the Republican Party has changed, McConnell said Trump could be criminally prosecuted for the events of January 6 and said he is practically and morally responsible for inciting violence. (He argued that the Senate had not been invited to serve as the nation’s highest moral court.)
Senator John Thune, the Republican No. 2 in the Senate, told CNN’s Ted Barrett that he voted to exonerate Trump because it was a legal issue and called the vote shameful.
I don’t think it was a good result for anyone, the South Dakota Republican said.
McConnell has not made the accusations about Trump’s election lies. He waited until mid-December to recognize Joe Biden as president. But he said Saturday that the events of the 6th… January was the predictable result of a growing crescendo of misrepresentations, conspiracy theories and reckless hyperbole shouted into the biggest megaphone on planet Earth by the defeated president.
Biden quoted McConnell’s speech in a statement Saturday night and emphasized the bipartisan nature of the vote – adding that while the vote did not result in a conviction, the substance of the charges against Trump is not in question.
Biden said each of us as Americans, and especially as leaders, has a responsibility to stand up for the truth and overcome lies. This is how we put an end to this uncivilized war and heal the soul of our nation.
Nikki Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations and a potential GOP presidential candidate in 2024, made the same point as McConnell in an interview with Politico magazine last week, saying the party needs to acknowledge that Trump has let them down.
He went down a road he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him or listened to him. And we must not let that happen again, the former South Carolina governor said in the interview.
In a speech Saturday, McConnell said it was clear only President Trump could stop it, referring to violence in the 6th Congressional District. January. But he noted that Trump failed to do so, despite pleas from former aides and allies, including McCarthy, whose explicit phone conversation with the former president raised new questions about what Trump knew and when.
The president did not act quickly. He didn’t do his job, McConnell said. Even after it became clear to any reasonable observer that Vice President (Mike) Pence was in grave danger, when a crowd carrying Trump banners beat the police officers and entered the perimeter…. intruded The president sent another tweet attacking his own vice president.
Pence, another potential candidate for the 2024 GOP nomination, remained conspicuously silent after the incident – choosing not to criticize Trump openly, but also choosing not to give Trump political cover when it became clear that the way Trump compromised his vice president that day was one of the issues that most concerned GOP senators during the process.
Republicans prepare for political fallout
While Republicans are trying to determine what their future looks like now that Trump is no longer in power, the reality is that the former president could still wield enormous influence in 2022 and 2024, not only because of his fundraising skills and cult followings, but also because the most conservative and sometimes extreme voters are often the most reliable in Republican primaries. His advisers expect him to return to the country tracks for some of the big meets he loves, and he hasn’t ruled out a race in 2024.
Some GOP lawmakers have considered the idea that Congress could censure Trump, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected the approach on Saturday, saying it would let cowardly senators off the hook.
Those cowardly senators who couldn’t accept what the president was doing and what was at stake for our country now get to wag their finger (Trump)? Pelosi answered a question about the no-confidence motion during a press conference with prosecutors after the vote. We condemn the misuse of office supplies. We don’t condemn anyone for inciting an uprising that kills people on Capitol Hill.
Trump is not being punished in the halls of Congress, but some GOP senators who voted for his conviction are already getting a slap on the wrist – as are GOP members in the House of Representatives who voted for his impeachment – especially at the local Republican Party level, where Trump’s loyalists are still in power.
Senator Bill Cassidy, who surprised everyone earlier this week by voting for the constitutionality of the trial, was immediately sanctioned Saturday by the Louisiana panel to vote on the guilty verdict. But the GOP senator, who was just re-elected in November and won’t be back in front of voters for another six years, was candid in his explanation of why he favors acquittal: Our Constitution and our country are more important than anything else. I voted for President Trump’s conviction because he is guilty, he said.
The most surprising impeachment vote came from Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, who had long announced that he would not run for re-election in 2022. Among those who voted to convict was Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who is also not running for re-election, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Of the seven, only Murkowski is in the running for re-election next year. The GOP senator, who has already overcome primary defeats and has not hesitated to go overboard with the GOP leadership, told CNN on Saturday that she understood the potential impact of voting to condemn the former president.
It’s not about me or my life, it’s about my work, Murkowski said. It’s about what we stand for. And if I can’t tell you what our president’s position should be, why would I ask Alaska to do that?
And Sasse, who has been repeatedly reprimanded by party officials in his state for his criticism of Trump, bluntly warned the public of the price to be paid for letting Trump go by calling tribalism a drug of hell when he explained his vote.
He pointed out that Mr. Trump has been trying to intimidate Georgia’s Secretary of State into finding votes that would swing the state in his favor after the election, and argued that Mr. Trump’s lies about the election have consequences that put the vice president’s life in danger and bring us closer to a bloody constitutional crisis.
With the end result, Sasse said, he is concerned that Congress is a weaker institution than the founders envisioned and will likely shrink.
Many Republicans are talking about restoring the power of Congress in the face of an overly aggressive executive branch, Sasse said in a statement.
If Congress does not respond decisively to the intimidating attack that Chapter II has launched on Article I, our constitutional balance will be upset forever. A weak and timid Congress will increasingly submit to a benevolent and empowered presidency. This is unacceptable. The institution must be respectful enough to tell the supervisor that certain boundaries should not be crossed.
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