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Saturday, January 23, 2021

McConnell Looks to Distance Himself from Trump as Impeachment Heads to Senate

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday blocked a quick Senate impeachment trial for President Donald Trump but did not rule out eventually voting to convict Trump.

A spokesman for McConnell said McConnell had informed Democrats that he would block an effort by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to quickly call the chamber back into emergency session to put Trump on trial.

With the House poised to impeach Trump later on Wednesday, that means Trump’s Senate trial is all but certain to be delayed until after Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

Yet in a letter to his GOP colleagues, McConnell acknowledged he had not made up his mind about whether Trump should be convicted of the House’s charge that he incited insurrection by exhorting supporters to storm the Capitol last week, resulting in five deaths and a disruption of Congress.

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“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.

McConnell will be Washington’s most powerful Republican once Democrat Biden is inaugurated, and McConnell’s increasingly chilly view of Trump could make it easier for other GOP lawmakers to turn against the president.

Earlier on Wednesday, a GOP strategist said McConnell has told people he thinks Trump perpetrated impeachable offenses.

McConnell also saw House Democrats’ drive to impeach Trump as an opportune moment to distance the GOP from the divisive outgoing president, according to the strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

McConnell’s views were first reported by The New York Times.

Should Mitch McConnell vote to convict Trump?

In addition, McConnell spoke to major Republican donors last weekend to assess their thinking about Trump and was told that they believed the president had clearly crossed a line, the strategist said.

McConnell told them he was finished with Trump, according to the consultant.

McConnell’s alienation from Trump, plus the readiness of several House Republicans to vote to impeach the president, underscored how the GOP’s long support of the president was eroding.

The Senate is in recess and isn’t scheduled to hold a business session until Jan. 19, the day before Biden’s inauguration. By law, the Senate can be summoned to return for an emergency session if the two party leaders, McConnell and Schumer, agree.

Schumer has called for an emergency Senate meeting so it can remove Trump from office before his term expires, citing potential problems that Trump could cause.

A McConnell spokesman confirmed that McConnell aides had told Schumer’s office that McConnell would not agree to an emergency session. The spokesman offered no explanation of McConnell’s reasoning.

The Democratic-led House moved on Wednesday toward certain approval of an impeachment article accusing Trump of inciting insurrection, the unprecedented second impeachment of his presidency.

McConnell is looking out for his party’s long-term future, but in the short term 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.

So far, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has said she wants Trump to resign and Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska 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.

Thanks to Democratic victories this month in two Georgia runoffs, Democrats are about to take control of the chamber in a 50-50 split, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris casting tie-breaking votes.

Speaking out against impeachment on Wednesday was Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican. Graham, one of Trump’s closest allies during his presidency, lambasted him over last week’s Capitol incursion.

Impeaching Trump now would “do great damage to the institutions of government and could invite further violence,” Graham said in a statement.

He said Trump’s millions of backers “should not be demonized because of the despicable actions of a seditious mob,” but he did not specifically defend Trump’s actions last week.

“If there was a time for America’s political leaders to bend a knee and ask for God’s counsel and guidance, it is now. The most important thing for leaders to do in times of crisis is to make things better, not worse,” Graham said.

When the Senate voted against removing Trump in February after the House impeached him over a phone call with Ukraine, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah was the only Republican who cast a vote to oust him.

The Capitol on Wednesday increasingly resembled a heavily defended compound as law enforcement braced for the possibility of more attacks. The Capitol and nearby office buildings were surrounded by 7-foot fencing and armed National Guard troops patrolled its grounds.

Trump has insisted that November’s presidential election was stolen from him by fraud. Those allegations have been rejected by state officials of both parties, state and federal courts and members of his own administration.

We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.


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