Impeachment trial tests Trump’s grip on Senate GOP

Impeachment trial tests Trump’s grip on Senate GOP

President TrumpDonald TrumpCIA chief threatened to resign over push to install Trump loyalist as deputy: report Azar in departure letter says Capitol riot threatens to ‘tarnish’ administration’s accomplishments Justice Dept. argues Trump should get immunity from rape accuser’s lawsuit MORE’s relationship with Senate Republicans is facing its biggest test at its lowest point.

Many Republicans blame Trump for their loss of the Senate majority, and are furious that he put their lives in danger after an angry mob filled with people who believed his conspiracy theories about the election stormed the Capitol last week.

Now those Republicans have a chance to vote to convict Trump in an impeachment trial — if they choose to do it. They could also vote to permanently ban him from holding public office. 

“It had been a very unhealthy marriage for a long time … and now you know a lot of Republicans are quite happy to be divorced,” said Doug Heye, a veteran GOP strategist and former Hill leadership aide. “There will still be political calculations that they make … but this is no longer a fractured relationship, it’s divorce.” 

Trump’s brash style has repeatedly exasperated Senate Republicans, even as they’ve been careful not to cross him given his grip on the base and worked with him to appoint conservative judges, cut taxes and roll back Obama-era regulations. 

But those ties are fraying like never before after a steady stream of post-November clashes.

It’s a big change from last year’s impeachment trial, when Trump’s acquittal was assured by a friendly Senate GOP. 

Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi mum on when House will send impeachment article to Senate Democratic senator: COVID-19 relief is priority over impeachment trial The Hill’s Morning Report – Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history MORE (R-Ky.) is privately telling confidants that he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses and that a conviction could help the party turn the page on Trump .

McConnell, in a letter to the GOP caucus, didn’t say how he would vote, stating he would listen to the arguments. Other GOP senators are following his lead. 

“The attack on the U.S. Capitol was an attack on democracy itself, and the President bears some responsibility for what occurred. … If the Senate proceeds with an impeachment trial, I will do my duty as a juror and listen to the cases presented by both sides,” said Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGOP in bind over Trump as corporate donations freeze Trump calls for ‘NO violence’ amid concerns of threats around inauguration Security concerns mount ahead of Biden inauguration MORE (R-Ohio). 

Some Republicans argue it is past time for their party to move on after four years where it’s largely been defined by Trump, who has had no qualms about throwing loyal allies under the bus. 

“I think our identity for the past several years now has been built around an individual. We’ve got to get back to where it’s built around a set of ideas and principles and policies,” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneFor platform regulation Congress should use a European cheat sheet Streamlining the process of prior authorization for medical and surgical procedures McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time MORE (R-S.D.) told reporters after Wednesday’s attack. 

Thune, who Trump recently threatened would lose in a GOP primary, didn’t criticize the president by name, but cited the chaos created by vetoing the defense bill, threatening a year-end shutdown and boxing in the party’s ability to acknowledge that President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenAzar in departure letter says Capitol riot threatens to ‘tarnish’ administration’s accomplishments House Democrats introduce measures to oppose Trump’s bomb sale to Saudis On The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico’s handling of energy permits MORE won as reasons they lost Georgia. 

Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Overnight Health Care: Biden unveils COVID-19 relief plan | Post-holiday surge hits new deadly records | Senate report faults ‘broken’ system for insulin price hikes Report faults ‘broken’ system for insulin price spikes MORE (R-Iowa), who like Thune is up for reelection in 2022, told reporters in Iowa that there was “very little opportunity” for Trump to lead the party, regardless of impeachment. 

But speaking out against Trump, much less voting to convict him and potentially block him from holding future office, could cost Republicans their seats in the Senate if it motivates Trump-friendly primary challenges. 

Republicans are defending 20 seats in 2022, meaning many Republicans will have one eye on the midterms as they consider conviction.

“Any move they make and especially on something this significant can bring with it a real primary challenge,” Heye said. 

An Axios-Ipsos poll underscores the schism awaiting Republicans: Asked to pick the best identifier, 56 percent of Republican respondents labeled themselves as “traditional Republicans” while 36 percent considered themselves to be Trump supporters. 

Between the two groups, 91 percent of Trump supporters support him contesting election results compared to 46 percent of traditional Republicans. And 92 percent of Trump supporters want him to be the party’s 2024 nominee compared to 41 percent of traditional Republicans. 

For now most Republicans are staying silent as they try to navigate a politically fluid situation and a constant stream of new developments.

There’s also the historical realty: GOP lawmakers are acutely aware that the sacking of the U.S. Capitol and Trump’s response will overshadow any other aspect of his legacy. And as more information about the attack comes out, they acknowledge, it could get worse. 

“I truly fear there may be more facts that come to light in the future that will put me on the wrong side of this debate,” said Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulLawmakers push back on late Trump terror designation for Yemen’s Houthis Foreign adversaries skewer US after Capitol riots Capitol assault ‘damaged’ US standing in the world, say lawmakers MORE (R-Texas) who, like most House Republicans, voted against impeachment. 

Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Regulator finalizes rule forcing banks to serve oil, gun companies Republican senators now regret not doing more to contain Trump MORE (R-N.D.), during an interview with CNBC, said it “seems unlikely” there would be 67 votes in the Senate to convict Trump. If every Democrat votes to convict they will need 17 GOP senators. 

Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump’s growing isolation as administration comes to an end Cotton: Senate lacks authority to hold impeachment trial once Trump leaves office MORE (R-Ark.), a 2024 contender who opposed overturning the election results, was one of the first GOP senators to make clear he would not vote to convict, though he did nothing to defend Trump.

Cotton said he didn’t think the Senate had the authority under the Constitution to hold an impeachment trial after a president has left office.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Additional airlines ban guns on flights to DC ahead of inauguration MORE (R-S.C.) is calling his colleagues privately to urge them to oppose convicting Trump and said in a public statement that supporting the effort would do “great damage … to the party.” 

But it seems guaranteed that Democrats will pick up more GOP support than in 2020, when Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt Romney’Almost Heaven, West Virginia’ — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate The Hill’s Morning Report – Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time MORE (Utah) was the only Republican to support one of the articles of impeachment. 

Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseSasse: Capitol rioters ‘came dangerously close to starting a bloody constitutional crisis’ McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time McConnell: Trump impeachment trial to start after Biden sworn in MORE (R-Neb.) has said he is open to considering any articles passed by the House. Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret Collins’Almost Heaven, West Virginia’ — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time McConnell says he’s undecided on whether to vote to convict Trump MORE (R-Maine) is staying mum on the trial but said in an op-ed that Trump “incited” rioters. 

Sens. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyGovernment used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 Appeals court rules NSA’s bulk phone data collection illegal Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel MORE (R-Pa.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann Murkowski’Almost Heaven, West Virginia’ — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate The Hill’s Morning Report – Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history Murkowski says it would be ‘appropriate’ to bar Trump from holding office again MORE (R-Alaska) have called on Trump to resign. 

Murkowski went a step further saying in a statement that she believes the House acted “appropriately” by impeaching Trump, while declining to say how she would ultimately vote in a trial. 

“On the day of the riots, President Trump’s words incited violence, which led to the injury and deaths of Americans – including a Capitol Police officer – the desecration of the Capitol, and briefly interfered with the government’s ability to ensure a peaceful transfer of power,” Murkowski said. “Such unlawful actions cannot go without consequences.” 

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