McConnell’s signal to Republicans could open floodgates against Trump

Washington: Republican Senator Mitch McConnell’s openness to convicting Donald Trump in a US Senate impeachment trial is a seismic signal to his caucus that could prod other Republicans to break with the President in the coming days and weeks.

While McConnell has remained largely silent since last week’s riot of the US Capitol, those close to him have anonymously conveyed through media reports that the outgoing Majority Leader is ready to wash his hands of Trump and that he sees the impeachment process as a ready-made solvent.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol.Credit:Senate TV/AP

Jim Kessler, a former policy aide to incoming Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, said McConnell’s smoke-signal gave other Senate Republicans permission to abandon Trump.

“Whether they take that permission, I don’t know,” said Kessler. “But between both McConnell and Representative [Liz] Cheney, this can no longer be seen as a partisan endeavour. That just changes this dramatically.”

The Democratic-led US House voted to impeach Trump for the second time in 13 months on Thursday (AEDT), charging the President with “inciting an insurrection” after a mob of his supporters stormed the nation’s Capitol last week, vandalised the building and sparked a security lockdown that delayed the certification of the 2020 Electoral College vote. At least five people died as a result of the riot.

Ten Republicans joined Democrats voting for impeachment. They are Wyoming’s Liz Cheney, Ohio’s Anthony Gonzalez, Washington’s Jamie Herrera-Beutler, New York’s John Katko, Illinois’ Adam Kinzinger, Michigan’s Peter Meijer, Washington’s Dan Newhouse, South Carolina’s Tom Rice, Michigan’s Fred Upton and California’s David Valadao.

Still unclear is exactly when the US Senate will take up the article for trial.

But McConnell indicated the next week should be dedicated to ensuring a safe inauguration for President-elect Joe Biden.

“Even if the Senate process were to begin this week and move promptly, no final verdict would be reached until after President Trump had left office. This is not a decision I am making; it is a fact. The President-elect himself stated last week that his inauguration on January 20 is the ‘quickest’ path for any change in the occupant of the presidency,” McConnell said.

Senator Mitt Romney of Utah was the only Republican Senator to vote to impeach Donald Trump the first time. Credit:Bloomberg

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski has said she wants Trump “out”, Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey indicated Trump’s offences were worthy of impeachment, and Nebraska's Ben Sasse told CBS News he would consider voting to convict.

Even if all four of them got to “yes” and were joined by McConnell, a dozen more Republicans would be needed to reach the two-thirds threshold. Some constitutional scholars argue that a simple majority of senators could vote to bar Trump from running again – but that decision would almost definitely spark a court challenge.

For his part, McConnell is clearly fed up with Trump. A source familiar with McConnell’s thinking said he largely blames Trump for the GOP’s twin Senate losses in Georgia. As the Kentuckian begins to eye climbing back into the majority in the 2022 midterms, an untethered and vengeful Trump would only complicate his calculations.

Still, even out of power Trump stands poised to remain a potent force with his tens of millions of followers. Any Republican senator who bucks Trump risks his wrath, if not an eventual primary challenge from a MAGA loyalist.

“It’s a calculated risk but when it comes to being on the right side of history, I think they’re going to make that choice,” said Reed.

Of course, McConnell’s signal to his Grand Old Party colleagues does not guarantee that a significant number will move against the President. At least half a dozen Republican senators harbour some level of presidential aspirations and may decide that a vote to convict Trump would immediately extinguish their chances.

At this point, with the timing of a trial up in the air, they may not even know what side they’ll end up on yet.

“The Republican caucus looks like an army that is in full panic running in different directions,” said Kessler, “so it’s hard to predict what they’ll do in the next 24 hours.”


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