Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not tipped his hand about how he plans to vote at the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump.
“While the press has been full of speculation, 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,” the Kentucky Republican has told his GOP colleagues, per his office.
Let’s frame that another way: The Republican leader of the Senate is leaving open the possibility of convicting the Republican president for “incitement of insurrection” and him from ever holding elected office again.
Mr McConnell’s open indecision, in itself, is extraordinary.
It is as strong an indictment of the president’s behaviour surrounding the deadly coup attempt at the Capitol on 6 January as the House’s vote on Wednesday to impeach him.
Mr McConnell “hates” Mr Trump, CNN has reported, claiming the two have not spoken since 14 December.
He has privately signaled his pleasure with the House’s decision to move forward with impeachment, believing it provides the GOP a rare and crucial opportunity to purge the party of Mr Trump’s influence, the New York Times reported earlier this week.
That was, decidedly, not the public position of the House GOP, 197 of whom voted against impeachment on Wednesday. Just 10 Republicans voted for it — a record number, but still less than 5 per cent of the conference.
Delivering Republicans’ closing remarks during the debate on this latest impeachment resolution, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise proclaimed that the United States is “a nation that is calling out for healing.”
Impeachment, Mr Scalise claims, “will only serve to further divide” that fractured nation.
But House Republicans don’t get to define what that word — “healing” — means, especially when it very clearly means rolling over to the threats of political violence from the right-wing, Trumpist base that has come to comprise a core part of their constituency.
That is not healing.
It is appeasement of a crowd of supporters whose political radicalism and misplaced fears about a “stolen election” they fuelled by egging on conspiracy theories and signing onto court challenges many of them knew were nonsense.
People like Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks have to realise they bear some responsibility for “dividing” this country when they exhort thousands of rage-fuelled supporters to “start taking down names and kicking ass” just hours before marching to the Capitol and doing exactly that, resulting in the deaths of five people. Even if they truly did only intend to be engaging in political hyperbole.
Whether Republicans’ “No” votes on impeachment on Wednesday were fuelled by literal self-preservation, as has been reported, or base political self-preservation, they are not the arbiters of what constitutes “healing.”
No, that privilege will rest with Mr McConnell when Speaker Nancy Pelosi sends the House’s ratified impeachment article over to the Senate in the coming days.
At least 17 Senate Republicans must join with the incoming Democratic majority if the chamber is to convict Mr Trump and constitutionally bar him from any future public office.
Prosecuting the case against Mr Trump in the Senate will be lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee who specialises in constitutional law and co-wrote the impeachment article.
The others impeachment managers are: David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Ted Lieu of California, Diana Degette of Colorado, Joaquin Castro of Texas, Eric Swalwell of California, Stacey Plaskett of the US Virgin Islands, Joe Neguse of Colorado, and Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania.
They will come to the Senate to present their case armed with 76 pages of materials and evidence compiled by the Democratic staff of the House Judiciary Committee.
Notably, none of the nine Democratic impeachment managers chairs a committee or has reached liberal bogeyman status in conservative circles (save, perhaps, for Mr Swalwell).
Chairmen Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler of the House Intelligence and Judiciary panels took on outsize antagonistic personas in Fox News’ and other conservative media outlets’ coverage at Mr Trump’s first impeachment trial, where they had been managers.
Ms Pelosi, who had final say over her “prosecution team,” is clearly not playing games — she thinks they have a legitimate shot of convincing 17 Republicans to cross the Rubicon.
Where Mr McConnell goes, Republicans will follow.
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