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Impeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP

President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot Intelligence community investigating links between lawmakers, Capitol rioters Michelle Obama slams 'partisan actions' to 'curtail access to ballot box' MORE’s relationship with Senate Republicans is facing its biggest test at its lowest point.

Many Republicans blame Trump for their loss of the Senate majority, and are furious that he put their lives in danger after an angry mob filled with people who believed his conspiracy theories about the election stormed the Capitol last week.

Now those Republicans have a chance to vote to convict Trump in an impeachment trial — if they choose to do it. They could also vote to permanently ban him from holding public office. 

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“It had been a very unhealthy marriage for a long time … and now you know a lot of Republicans are quite happy to be divorced,” said Doug Heye, a veteran GOP strategist and former Hill leadership aide. “There will still be political calculations that they make … but this is no longer a fractured relationship, it’s divorce.” 

Trump’s brash style has repeatedly exasperated Senate Republicans, even as they’ve been careful not to cross him given his grip on the base and worked with him to appoint conservative judges, cut taxes and roll back Obama-era regulations. 

But those ties are fraying like never before after a steady stream of post-November clashes.

It’s a big change from last year’s impeachment trial, when Trump’s acquittal was assured by a friendly Senate GOP. 

Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Klain on Harris breaking tie: 'Every time she votes, we win' How to pass legislation in the Senate without eliminating the filibuster MORE (R-Ky.) is privately telling confidants that he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses and that a conviction could help the party turn the page on Trump .

McConnell, in a letter to the GOP caucus, didn’t say how he would vote, stating he would listen to the arguments. Other GOP senators are following his lead. 

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“The attack on the U.S. Capitol was an attack on democracy itself, and the President bears some responsibility for what occurred. ... If the Senate proceeds with an impeachment trial, I will do my duty as a juror and listen to the cases presented by both sides,” said Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanMandel gets Club for Growth nod in Ohio Senate primary Rick Scott caught in middle of opposing GOP factions Five takeaways from dramatic Capitol security hearing MORE (R-Ohio). 

Some Republicans argue it is past time for their party to move on after four years where it’s largely been defined by Trump, who has had no qualms about throwing loyal allies under the bus. 

“I think our identity for the past several years now has been built around an individual. We’ve got to get back to where it's built around a set of ideas and principles and policies,” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Rick Scott caught in middle of opposing GOP factions Democrats cut deals to bolster support for relief bill MORE (R-S.D.) told reporters after Wednesday’s attack. 

Thune, who Trump recently threatened would lose in a GOP primary, didn’t criticize the president by name, but cited the chaos created by vetoing the defense bill, threatening a year-end shutdown and boxing in the party’s ability to acknowledge that President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot FireEye finds evidence Chinese hackers exploited Microsoft email app flaw since January Biden officials to travel to border amid influx of young migrants MORE won as reasons they lost Georgia. 

Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGarland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks National Sheriffs' Association backs Biden pick for key DOJ role Bipartisan group of senators introduces bill to rein in Biden's war powers MORE (R-Iowa), who like Thune is up for reelection in 2022, told reporters in Iowa that there was “very little opportunity” for Trump to lead the party, regardless of impeachment. 

But speaking out against Trump, much less voting to convict him and potentially block him from holding future office, could cost Republicans their seats in the Senate if it motivates Trump-friendly primary challenges. 

Republicans are defending 20 seats in 2022, meaning many Republicans will have one eye on the midterms as they consider conviction.

“Any move they make and especially on something this significant can bring with it a real primary challenge,” Heye said. 

An Axios-Ipsos poll underscores the schism awaiting Republicans: Asked to pick the best identifier, 56 percent of Republican respondents labeled themselves as “traditional Republicans” while 36 percent considered themselves to be Trump supporters. 

Between the two groups, 91 percent of Trump supporters support him contesting election results compared to 46 percent of traditional Republicans. And 92 percent of Trump supporters want him to be the party’s 2024 nominee compared to 41 percent of traditional Republicans. 

For now most Republicans are staying silent as they try to navigate a politically fluid situation and a constant stream of new developments.

There’s also the historical realty: GOP lawmakers are acutely aware that the sacking of the U.S. Capitol and Trump’s response will overshadow any other aspect of his legacy. And as more information about the attack comes out, they acknowledge, it could get worse. 

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“I truly fear there may be more facts that come to light in the future that will put me on the wrong side of this debate,” said Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulMcCaul says Trump has responsibility to tell potential Capitol attackers to 'stand down' Threats to Capitol prompt House to cancel Thursday votes Blinken speaks with Ethiopian leader about human rights concerns in Tigray MORE (R-Texas) who, like most House Republicans, voted against impeachment. 

Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Senate votes to take up COVID-19 relief bill OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior reverses Trump policy that it says restricted science | Collins to back Haaland's Interior nomination | Republicans press Biden environment nominee on Obama-era policy MORE (R-N.D.), during an interview with CNBC, said it “seems unlikely” there would be 67 votes in the Senate to convict Trump. If every Democrat votes to convict they will need 17 GOP senators. 

Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonRepublicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Lawmakers face Capitol threat as senators line up votes for relief bill Garland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks MORE (R-Ark.), a 2024 contender who opposed overturning the election results, was one of the first GOP senators to make clear he would not vote to convict, though he did nothing to defend Trump.

Cotton said he didn’t think the Senate had the authority under the Constitution to hold an impeachment trial after a president has left office.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Here's who Biden is now considering for budget chief House Democratic leaders back Shalanda Young for OMB after Tanden withdrawal MORE (R-S.C.) is calling his colleagues privately to urge them to oppose convicting Trump and said in a public statement that supporting the effort would do “great damage ... to the party.” 

But it seems guaranteed that Democrats will pick up more GOP support than in 2020, when Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Romney's TRUST Act is a Trojan Horse to cut seniors' benefits Republicans, please save your party MORE (Utah) was the only Republican to support one of the articles of impeachment. 

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Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseSenators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China Garland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks Republicans, please save your party MORE (R-Neb.) has said he is open to considering any articles passed by the House. Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMurkowski votes with Senate panel to advance Haaland nomination OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior reverses Trump policy that it says restricted science | Collins to back Haaland's Interior nomination | Republicans press Biden environment nominee on Obama-era policy Republicans, please save your party MORE (R-Maine) is staying mum on the trial but said in an op-ed that Trump “incited” rioters. 

Sens. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeySasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote Philly GOP commissioner on censures: 'I would suggest they censure Republican elected officials who are lying' Toomey censured by several Pennsylvania county GOP committees over impeachment vote MORE (R-Pa.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships Senate votes to take up COVID-19 relief bill The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Increased security on Capitol Hill amid QAnon's March 4 date MORE (R-Alaska) have called on Trump to resign. 

Murkowski went a step further saying in a statement that she believes the House acted “appropriately” by impeaching Trump, while declining to say how she would ultimately vote in a trial. 

“On the day of the riots, President Trump’s words incited violence, which led to the injury and deaths of Americans – including a Capitol Police officer – the desecration of the Capitol, and briefly interfered with the government’s ability to ensure a peaceful transfer of power,” Murkowski said. “Such unlawful actions cannot go without consequences.”