(Headline USA) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not rule out that he might eventually vote to convict the now twice-impeached President Donald Trump, but he also blocked a quick Senate impeachment trial.
Minutes after the House voted 232-197 on Wednesday to impeach Trump, McConnell said in a letter to his GOP colleagues that he’s not determined whether Trump should be convicted in the Senate’s upcoming proceedings. The House impeachment articles charge, without evidence, that Trump incited insurrection by exhorting supporters who violently attacked the Capitol last week, resulting in five deaths and a disruption of Congress.
“I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” McConnell wrote.
Congress’s measure ignored plenty of evidence that Antifa agitators were a significant threat to the U.S. Capitol during the siege.
McConnell’s openness was a stark contrast to the support, or at times silence, he’s shown during much of Trump’s presidency, and to the opposition he expressed rapidly when the House impeached Trump 13 months ago. McConnell will be Washington’s most powerful Republican once Democrat Joe Biden is inaugurated, and McConnell’s increasingly chilly view of Trump could make it easier for other GOP lawmakers to turn against him.
McConnell’s burgeoning alienation from Trump, plus the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him, underscored how the GOP’s support of Trump actions was eroding.
McConnell also issued a statement saying Congress and the government should spend the next week “completely focused on facilitating a safe inauguration and an orderly transfer of power” to Biden. He suggested Trump’s Senate trial would begin no earlier than Jan. 19 — in effect rejecting a drive by the chamber’s Democrats to begin the proceedings immediately so Trump could be ousted from office.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that unless McConnell reverses himself and agrees to quickly start the trial, it would begin after Jan. 19. That’s a day before Biden is inaugurated as president and about the time Democrats take over majority control of the Senate. The timetable essentially means McConnell is dropping the trial into Democrats’ laps.
“Make no mistake, there will be an impeachment trial in the United States Senate,” Schumer said. He added, “If the president is convicted, there will be a vote on barring him from running again.”
The Constitution requires a two-thirds majority to convict a president, meaning at least 17 Republicans would need to join all 50 Democrats to oust Trump.
The Democratic-led House approved an impeachment article accusing Trump of inciting insurrection, an unprecedented second impeachment.
McConnell is looking out for his party’s long-term future, but moving toward a political divorce from Trump could mean that congressional Republicans will face challenges in GOP primaries.
It is unclear how many Republicans would vote to convict Trump in a Senate trial, but it appears plausible that several would.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on Wednesday told Alaska’s News Source, an Anchorage news outlet, that Trump “has committed an impeachable offense.” She stopped short of saying if she’d vote to convict him.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., has said he would “definitely consider” House impeachment articles.
Complicating GOP thinking about Trump’s second impeachment is that Republicans will be defending 20 of the 34 Senate seats up for election in 2022.
Adapted from reporting by Associated Press.