McConnell won’t reprise role as chief Trump defender

Senate Republican sources say they do not expect Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to reprise his role as one of President Trump’s principal defenders in a future Senate impeachment trial.

A Republican official said McConnell has made it clear to his allies that he’s done defending Trump and that the Senate GOP leader hasn’t spoken to the president since December.

McConnell had given a speech sharply breaking with Trump over the election — which the GOP leader tellingly said had not been that close — moments before the Capitol was overtaken by a mob. Aides and police later had to help McConnell, 78, as he and other senators were evacuated.

“He’s genuinely furious about what happened last week and what led up to it,” the GOP source said of McConnell’s anger over the storming of the Capitol.

The New York Times on Tuesday afternoon published a story that said McConnell has told associates that he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses.

Senate Republican sources told The Hill that McConnell hasn’t revealed whether he would vote to convict Trump on an article of impeachment.

A majority of House Republicans are expected to oppose impeachment, and it’s also likely a majority of Senate Republicans would vote to acquit Trump in a trial, even after the mob attack. 

A vote by McConnell to convict Trump is unlikely in these circumstances, but sources said it can’t be ruled out.

The GOP official noted that McConnell has taken a very different approach to the article of impeachment expected to receive a House vote Wednesday.

While McConnell made clear from the very start of the 2019-2020 impeachment effort that he viewed it purely as a political exercise without any solid basis, he has pointedly not offered the same defense this week.

“He’s not doing that this time,” the official said. “I don’t know if he ultimately supports it or he doesn’t support it. Part of it probably depends on what case and what articles House Democrats ultimately place on their desk in the Senate.”

“He doesn’t see this as a political exercise. It may very well warrant that kind of action,” the source added.

McConnell refused to negotiate a bipartisan impeachment resolution with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to lay the ground rules for the start of Trump’s 2020 impeachment trial.

Instead, Republicans passed a partisan resolution that did not allow the impeachment managers to call on witnesses such as former national security adviser John Bolton or to introduce new evidence not included in the House impeachment record.

McConnell will not spend nearly as much political capital this time around defending Trump, Senate GOP sources say. There’s a question of whether McConnell will even make an effort to help recruit reputable lawyers to defend Trump on the Senate floor. 

McConnell negotiated an agreement with Schumer for the Senate to be in recess until Jan. 19. That means next Tuesday is the soonest that House impeachment managers can present the article of impeachment to the Senate and the soonest a trial can begin would be Jan. 20, after President-elect Joe Biden is sworn into office, according to a memo McConnell circulated with colleagues Friday.

A Republican source familiar with the recess agreement said McConnell and Schumer negotiated it before rioters stormed the Capitol last week and was not in any way intended by McConnell to spare Trump from a Senate impeachment trial while he is in office.

Schumer on Tuesday called on McConnell to reconvene the Senate immediately to allow an impeachment trial to proceed as soon as the House passes an article of impeachment.

“There was legislation passed in 2004 that allows the Senate minority and majority leader to jointly reconvene the Senate in times of emergency. This is a time of emergency,” Schumer said at an afternoon press conference in New York.

“I’ve asked him to call the Senate back — all he needs is my agreement. I’m still minority leader,” he said.

McConnell did not respond publicly to Schumer’s statement as of Tuesday afternoon.

His low-profile approach to the new impeachment push strikes a clear contrast to the defense he put up after the House impeached Trump at the end of 2019.

A year ago, McConnell called the House impeachment of Trump, which not a single Republican voted for, “purely political.”

“Speaker Pelosi and the House have taken our nation down a dangerous road. If the Senate blesses this unprecedented and dangerous House process by agreeing that an incomplete case and a subjective basis are enough to impeach a president, we will almost guarantee the impeachment of every future president of either party,” McConnell warned on Jan. 15.

A key difference between now and the end of 2019, when the House adopted on party-line votes two articles of impeachment, is that there’s significantly more bipartisan support for impeaching and removing Trump from office this time.

As many as two-dozen House Republicans are expected to vote to impeach Trump on Wednesday, including possibly House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who has called it a “vote of conscience.”
Cheney in a sharply-worded statement released Tuesday said she would vote to impeach Trump, declaring: “the president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack.” 
“There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” she said.
Three Republican senators have signaled they would consider voting to convict Trump on an article of impeachment based on his role in stirring up a mob of supporters that stormed the Capitol: Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.).

Two other GOP senators, Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Mitt Romney (Utah), said Trump incited the crowd that swarmed past security check points and assaulted Capitol Police officers.

Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, released a statement Tuesday afternoon asserting that Trump bore some responsibility for the attack on the Capitol.

“Both in his words before the attack on the Capitol and in his actions afterward, President Trump bears some responsibility for what happened on January 6,” Portman said, adding that Trump would be to blame if there was violence at President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

“If our nation experiences additional violence and destruction at the hands of his supporters in Washington DC and state capitols around the country, and he does not directly and unambiguously speak out now when threats are known, he will bear responsibility,” he said.

But Senate Republicans are divided and some GOP lawmakers are calling for the Senate to avoid a trial once Trump leaves office, arguing it would be needlessly divisive.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C) issued a statement Tuesday afternoon asserting that a political brawl over impeachment would run counter to Biden’s pledge to calm the partisan temperature in Washington and promote national unity.

“The Democrat-led impeachment talks happening in the House right now fly in direct opposition to what President-elect Joe Biden has been calling for all year,” he said. “An impeachment vote will only lead to more hate and a deeply fractured nation. I oppose impeaching President Trump.”

A Senate Republican aide said McConnell will have to handle divisions within his conference “delicately.”

“The biggest dangers with what Democrats are doing is that it so vastly cheapens impeachment,” said the aide. “Trump clearly was complicit in making the situation work but did he incite an insurrection? No. He incited mob behavior and violence, yes. But an actual insurrection to overthrow the government? No.”

The aide predicted that convicting Trump on an article of impeachment will get nowhere near the two-thirds majority required to remove him from office and block him from running for president again.

A censure resolution which would require only a simple majority vote in the Senate to adopt would have a much better chance of passing, the aide said.

Tags Ben Sasse Capitol breach Charles Schumer Donald Trump Donald Trump Impeachment Impeachment Joe Biden John Bolton Lisa Murkowski Liz Cheney Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Pat Toomey Rob Portman Susan Collins Tim Scott

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